Young drivers set to receive controversial Christmas present

Young drivers are happy about the law change, most instructors are not Keystone

Young Swiss drivers look set to be able to get their provisional licences from the age of 17 next year if the government approves a plan by outgoing Transport Minister Doris Leuthard on Friday. 

This content was published on December 9, 2018 - 13:01

The idea is for 17-year-olds to be able to have a provisional driving licence (which lets them practise with an accompanying driver) and apply for their full licence as soon as they turn 18, around six months earlier than at present according to a report in the SonntagsZeitung. Currently learners can apply for a provisional licence a month before turning 18. 

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Opponents are outraged at what they see as Leuthard’s farewell gift to the car lobby days before she retires. Not only have Roadcross Switzerland, the road safety foundation, and the Traffic and Environment Association come out against lowering the age at which one can start driving, but in September, 30 out of 46 Senators from all parties backed a motion from Hans Wicki to prevent the change in law. 

The Swiss Council for Accident Prevention has previously said it does not necessarily expect more accidents among 17-year-old learner drivers, but it was worried about 40,000 more young people being on the road because of training starting earlier. 

In addition, the Swiss Association of Driving Instructors has said that young people are not mature enough to receive the provisional licence at 17. 

Smoke and (rear-view) mirrors? 

However, the SonntagsZeitung says Leuthard has been manoeuvring behind the scenes this week, convincing opponents in the Senate that it’s important for the entire package of new laws to be passed before she retires. 

Anyway, she said, it’s not as if not many people will apply for the provisional driving licence on their 17th birthday, according to the paper. 

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Sure enough, Hans Wicki withdrew his motion, saying Leuthard had agreed to a written assessment of the change after three years. 

Another Senator, Philipp Müller, said if they had backed the motion it would have blocked the entire package, which was undesirable since it contained improvements to road safety. 

‘Unbelievable’ 

Opponents, however, are angry and confused. 

“It’s a mystery to me how 30 Senators could suddenly change their mind overnight,” said Willi Wismer from the board of Roadcross. 

Regula Rytz, president of the Green Party, said it was “unbelievable” that Leuthard wanted to “go against the will of associations and road safety experts” and lower the minimum age for learner drivers to 17. 

Leuthard has let herself be used by the car lobby, Rytz said, explaining that the car industry wanted to get young people used to driving as early as possible and boost consumption. 

The official reason for the change is that since learners will in future have to have a provisional licence for at least a year, it must be possible to apply for such a licence sooner. Driving instructors dismiss this argument, saying it won’t mean learners clock up more practice hours behind the wheel.


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