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Legal reform brings more 17-year-old drivers to Finnish roads

If it's proven to authorities they need to drive, 17-year-olds in Finland can get licences before they turn 18. A law change in July has increased the practice.

Jessica Sakala istuu autonsa konepellillä.
17-year-old Jessica Sakala from rural Akaa has a driver's license. Image: Ismo Sakala

The number of underage driving licenses being granted in Finland has steadily increased since reforms relaxed the laws allowing 17-year-olds to get licenses under special circumstances. Usually, people must wait until they turn 18 before being eliglible to drive.

During the five-year period before the reform went into effect in July, only a small handful of licences - between two to seven - were granted to 17-year-olds each year, according to road safety agency Trafi.

In the three months since the law has been in effect however, more than 240 licenses have already been granted to this group, and 170 applications are still pending.

"Before, a 17-year-old would have to present special - and especially compelling - reasons to get a license," says Trafi's specialist Henna Antila. "Now just a specific reason is adequate and [the applicant is] no longer required to prove how severe the need is."

Additionally, the young drivers are also no longer restricted to driving exclusively on specified routes - such as to school or a job. As long as the special permit is kept with them while on the roads, these young drivers have all the privileges of adult drivers.

Different reasons, nearly all accepted

The Trafi application guidelines for the special permit lists a number of acceptable reasons to be granted the license, including long distances or poor public transport options to reach work or school.

"The exception is meant to help the teens get around," said Antila. "It's meant to fast-track career choices and employment. Finland is a country where the distances between places are long and public transport is inoperative in many regions. Many people need this special permission."

Trafi assesses applications separately to determine the need of individual applicants. Since the law change, only three applications have been rejected.

"We're monitoring the situation to see where it goes," Antila said. "The number of applications wasn't a surprise, even if we didn't exactly anticipate it."

The applications are normally handled within 1-4 weeks. A parent or guardian's permission is needed to apply, and applications may be made up to four months before the applicant's 17th birthday. The fee for the underage permission costs 100 euros.

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