It looks like a real car, but it’s not: the Swedish moped car or the A-tractor. In Sweden, thousands of teenagers aged 15 and older drive around in these small plastic cars, which are covered by the moped rules. They are allowed a maximum of 30 kilometers per hour and must have a warning triangle on the back. A seat belt is not necessary.
Things often go wrong with the A tractor. In September, a 17-year-old boy and a teenage girl were killed in a head-on collision with a truck. And last month, two boys died in an accident near Grebbestad on Sweden’s west coast. Two other passengers were seriously injured. It led to a debate about whether it is responsible to let teenagers drive the moped cars.
‘Some see it as a lifestyle, a hobby for enthusiasts or a safe way to introduce young people to traffic. Others see a moving brake block,” the Swedish newspaper concluded Dagens Nyheter (DN) the debate together.
Journalist Malin Lernfelt is in the camp that thinks the ‘toy cars’ are too much of a risk. Most drivers have much less traffic knowledge than those with a driving license, registers them Express. In addition, the design of the vehicles, which look like cars but are not, “gives a false sense of security.” ‘More and more minors are now driving plastic cars amidst heavy vehicles and packed caravans.’ According to Lernfelt, it also appears that accidents involving these vehicles are often serious, for example because drivers become trapped relatively quickly. ‘It’s time for politicians to take responsibility.’
There are 34,000 registered A tractors on the road in Sweden. That’s double since 2019, when the rules were relaxed. By way of comparison: 18,000 microcars are active in the Netherlands and most are used by the over-50s. They are allowed a maximum of 45 kilometers per hour and seat belts are mandatory. You can drive it from the age of 16.
Since the relaxation in Sweden, the number of accidents has also increased explosively. According to experts, one of the main reasons is that many young people avoid the speed limiter. Drivers also only need a moped driver’s license. That means twelve hours of lessons, of which four hours of practical lessons on the moped. ‘So only twelve hours of training, on the wrong vehicle’, concludes Cecilia Friis of road safety organization NTF DN.
The Swedish transport agency came up with proposals this month to make the A tractors safer, including making seatbelts mandatory; fewer passengers (one passenger per seat); the use of winter tires as with normal cars; and some technical requirements that make speed limit manipulation difficult. Commentator Susanne Nyström van DN welcomes the proposals, but blames the agency for only now coming up with it. “Significant relaxations cannot be implemented just like that. Not when human lives are at stake.’
Journalist Per-Ola Olsson van Svenska Dagbladet is in the other camp. He warns against too rigorous measures. He describes the tractors as ‘freedom machines’, creating freedom for young people and parents in rural areas without good public transport. In addition, tuned up vehicles are part of ‘the process of coming of age for many’.
Olsson acknowledges that the number of accidents is increasing, but points out that the number of A tractors and mopeds has increased more than the number of accidents. He proposes to increase the maximum speed to 50 kilometers per hour, because then young people will be less inclined to speed up the moped car. Forbidding is a disastrous path, writes Olsson. “Adults had also not accepted that their freedom would be restricted because a small number cannot handle the responsibility that comes with it.”
Cecilia Friis points out that many young drivers of moped cars do comply with all the rules. Moreover, many road users are ‘not very nice’ to drivers of A-tractors, because they are annoyed by the low speed. ‘Some become aggressive, make dangerous overtaking actions, or even push the A tractors off the road. So there are two sides to this story.’
Jeroen Visser is a correspondent in Sweden.