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Young drivers could face tougher licence requirements

Road safety concerns have spurred the Transport Ministry to seek another revision of the 2018 Driving License Act.

Ajo-opetusta Lappeenrannan keskustassa.
Young motorists' road safety has improved in many respects in recent years. Image: Mikko Savolainen / Yle

Rules on driving licences which came into force just three years ago could be overhauled once more.

In March, the Ministry of Transport and Communications said it would look again at the law governing driving licences. In its blog, the ministry said it would "assess what kind of legislative changes are needed to improve road safety for young people".

"The starting point of the project is that, in general, young people should be able to travel safely and flexibly while the related administrative burden is reduced," said Monika Mutanen, a senior official at the Transport Ministry's Basic Services Unit.

"Among other issues, the project will assess the adequacy of teaching, tests and sanctions to improve traffic safety," Mutanen told Yle.

The revised law would likely take effect sometime next year.

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The driver's license process was last overhauled just three years ago. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

The Driving Licence Act, which came into force in mid-2018, reduced compulsory theory instruction and placed more emphasis on demonstrating competence in the driving test itself.

The 2018 reform was primarily motivated by the relatively high price of getting a driving licence, including the obligatory courses. The cost of obtaining a licence has dropped since the new legislation took effect.

More injuries to young drivers

Parliament asked the ministry to study the effects of the previous legislative reform, and the results were published in March. They showed that overall accidents involving young drivers decreased in 2019 and 2020, but that injuries to 17-year-old drivers rose last year.

The number of driving bans imposed on young people has also increased in recent years, although the number of people obtaining driving licences has fallen steadily. Only 54 percent of 18-year-olds now obtain a Class B driver’s licence.

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New driving permit laws 1.7.2018 - graf
The 2018 reform brought several changes. Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Last autumn police said that people aged 15-24 make up only about 12 percent of the population, but almost one in three people injured in road traffic is young.

Road Safety Council: Full driving rights should take effect in stages

The Finnish Road Safety Council, Liikenneturva, also sees a need for a reform of the law. It has its own suggestions on how safety for newly licenced drivers could be improved.

"One possibility would be to create a tiered driving licence, which would give young drivers certain limited rights," suggests Pasi Anteroinen, managing director of Liikenneturva.

"This could mean, for example, that in the first months after getting their licence, a young person would only be allowed to drive with an adult in the vehicle. The riskier situations could also be restricted, such as driving at night or with all other passengers being teenagers," Anteroinen said.

This type of model is already in use in Denmark, where the results have been good, Anteroinen said.

"In the longer term, road safety for young people has improved, but too slowly. We are significantly behind the other Nordic countries in this regard," he said.

Car association: Target those causing problems

Those approaching driving age are not likely to be enthusiastic about Liikenneturva's proposal. Nor is the Automobile and Touring Club of Finland (ATCF).

"The Driving Licence Act has been reformed quite a few times over the past decade, so I would like to see what the longer-term effects are and draw conclusions from that," said ATCF managing director Pasi Nieminen.

As Nieminen sees it, the biggest problem in tiered driving rights is that it would make it more difficult to get around, even for those who drive safely.

"Consideration should be given to driving bans and penalties for the group that is causing the problems. We should focus on that problems so that young people who behave responsibly are not targeted by unnecessary measures," Nieminen said.

Exemptions for 17-year-olds popular

The latest reform made it easier for a 17-year-old to get behind the wheel of a car. This was previously possible only under exceptional circumstances, for instance to get to school or work in areas with scant public transport.

Under the new, looser exemptions, about 30,000 driving licences have been issued to 17-year-olds, significantly more than was expected.

A 17-year-old can even obtain an exemption if he or she has received a traffic ban within the previous few years, for instance for dangerous use of a moped or motorbike.

"This is a clear area for improvement. If a driver has had a driving ban as a moped rider at the age of 15-16, he or she should not be granted an exemption for a passenger car at the age of 17," Anteroinen said.

Yle reported last autumn that aggravated speeding by young people increased after the driver's licence reform. Police in Lapland noted that many of those driving too fast were already known to police for earlier infractions related to moped or motorcycle use.

In a survey commissioned by Liikenneturva, only 26 percent of respondents thought that being able to drive a car at 17 was a positive change.

The changes in the law are part of a broader road safety strategy, preparation of which began in late 2019. This in turn is linked to an EU-wide goal of zero deaths in road transport by 2050.

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