Should 17-Year-Old Drives Get Behind the Wheel of HGVs?

Proposed changes allowing 17-year-olds to operate heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) under an accompanied driving scheme have sparked considerable controversy, with critics deeming the initiative "dangerous."

European Parliament in Favour

The European Parliament's transport committee recently took a stance, formally supporting proposals to reform driving license regulations within the European Union. However, the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) has raised alarm, cautioning that the potential consequences of these amendments, if incorporated into final legislation, could be disastrous for road safety.

The crux of the issue lies in the endorsement by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) of the European Commission's directive, which mandates that all EU member states issue driving licenses to 17-year-olds for driving HGVs under a supervised driving program. The ETSC argues that such a move can substantially elevate the number of teenage lorry drivers, presenting a clear and present danger to road safety. Presently, only five countries, including Finland, Germany, Ireland, Poland, and Spain, allow individuals as young as 18 to operate lorries.

Young Drivers Have More Accidents

Drawing from data from Finland, Germany, and Poland, the road safety group contends that younger lorry drivers, specifically those aged 18-19, are more likely to be involved in accidents. In light of these findings, the ETSC advocates maintaining the minimum age for EU lorry drivers at 21, aligning with the recommended minimum age. Moreover, the transport committee's endorsement of allowing 16-year-olds to drive speed-limited cars, a proposal from Finland, has also attracted scrutiny despite the European Commission's acknowledgement of potential additional road safety risks associated with this initiative.

Expressing deep-seated concerns about the potential repercussions of encouraging a surge in teenage lorry drivers, Ellen Townsend, the policy director at ETSC, implores policymakers to reassess the implications of these proposed changes before the scheduled plenary vote in the European Parliament set to take place in January.

Simultaneously, the government is deliberating changes to driving license rules on the United Kingdom front. A government consultation witnessed over two-thirds of respondents supporting granting drivers automatic entitlement to operate vehicles up to 7.5 tonnes after passing their standard driving test. However, this proposed change has sparked division within fleets, with more than half expressing reservations about expanding a car driver's entitlement to heavy vans and trucks.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is actively reviewing responses to the consultation, launched in August 2022, and seeking opinions on various modifications to the driving license regime. These allowed drivers to operate heavier vehicles with a car driving test, a departure from the existing licensing structure.

Other Changes Being Discussed

Meanwhile, across the European Union, MEPs are also mulling over implementing an EU-wide zero-tolerance limit for alcohol among novice drivers. This proposed limit would see newly qualified drivers subject to a low 0.2 g/l blood alcohol concentration threshold across the EU. However, the potential implementation of this change would primarily impact Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, and Finland, as other EU member states already maintain a limit of 0 or 0.2 for novice drivers, with Spain having a limit of 0.3.

As the proposals navigate through the legislative process, the final shape of the revised EU Driving License Directive will be shaped through negotiations involving MEPs, EU transport ministers, and the European Commission following a plenary vote scheduled for January. The outcomes of these deliberations will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for road safety and driving regulations across the European Union.