Promise of the traffic light: Driving at 16: Germany fails because of EU law

Promise of the traffic light
Driving at 16: Germany fails because of EU law

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Statistics show that accompanied driving by teenagers increases their road safety. The traffic light coalition and some federal states even wanted to let 16-year-olds get behind the wheel. However, there will be no nationwide, permanent regulation. The EU’s transport policy is not yet ready.

Driving licenses at the age of 16 will not be available in Germany any time soon. The Federal Ministry of Transport in Berlin announced that European law does not currently allow the implementation of plans to acquire a car driving license at the age of 16. The federal government made up of the SPD, Greens and FDP wanted to enable accompanied driving from the age of 16 instead of the previous age of 17 and had written the project into its coalition agreement. When it will be implemented is unclear.

Six years ago, Lower Saxony made a move to allow 16-year-olds to get behind the wheel when accompanied by an adult. Other federal states also wanted to gain experience with lowering the age through pilot projects. However, such a regulation has not been implemented. You can get your driving license at the age of 16, but driving is only permitted from your 17th birthday under certain conditions.

The hurdles lie at the EU level. The ministry of Transport Minister Volker Wissing announced: “Since the framework for driving license law is regulated bindingly for all member states at the European level, Germany cannot unilaterally regulate a lowering of the minimum age at the national level.”

According to its own information, the Federal Ministry of Transport initially advocated a model project with the European Commission – and referred to the “positive experiences with accompanied driving from the age of 17”. However, in a Commission draft of the EU driving license directive, this request was not complied with, it was now said.

The FDP wrote in its election program for the federal election three years ago: “We Free Democrats want to lower the minimum age for obtaining a car driving license and enable accompanied driving from the age of 16.” This has been discussed for years.

Driving at 17 becomes less attractive

Accompanied driving at the age of 17 has been possible nationwide since 2011. Previously there were temporary model projects in federal states. According to data from the Federal Motor Transport Authority, more than 241,000 young people under 18 got a driving license in 2022, significantly fewer than when it was introduced. According to the ADAC automobile club, less than half of those applying for a driving license are currently taking advantage of the opportunity to drive accompanied from the age of 17.

Young people up to the age of 18 are allowed to drive a car with an exception if they are accompanied by an accompanying person. Who is eligible will be specified by name when the test certificate is issued. There are also requirements for the passenger, who must be at least 30 years old.

For the ADAC it is clear: “Getting a driver’s license at 17 was and is a win.” Young people who got behind the wheel at the age of 17 had a significantly lower risk of accidents than those who did not take advantage of the accompanying phase. The rapporteur for the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Mathias Stein, who is responsible for traffic safety, also refers to such statistics. There is a pleasing increase in road safety, he says.

SPD: Politically still for the right goal

The traffic light coalition therefore considers the goal of accompanied driving at the age of 16 to be “politically correct”. But: With this wish, Germany represents a niche opinion, says Stein. “For most other EU countries, the concept of ‘accompanied driving at 17’ is still new and is therefore viewed critically.”

The ADAC would welcome the driver’s license at the age of 16 – also because the training time for the driver’s license has increased on average in recent years, thus reducing the time for an “intensive support phase”. In any case, in addition to the beginner risk, young people are exposed to “driving situations typical of young people”, such as driving in groups. “That’s why it’s right that the learning period, i.e. the phase in which young drivers are not yet on the road alone, is extended.”

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