How young Swedes learn to drive: on 'tractors' that are cut-down cars

July 10, 2016

In America, some people get their first taste of driving behind the wheels of go-carts and golf carts. In Saudi Arabia, women often climb into bumper cars--though since they're forbidden to drive actual cars in that conservative country, none are practicing for license exams. 

In Sweden, however, young drivers take a different approach. They exploit a curious law that, like similar laws in the U.S., allows non-licensed drivers to get behind the wheels of farm vehicles. The difference is, in Sweden, those vehicles can be homemade.

A brief history of the A-tracktor 

During World War II, farm equipment shortages forced Swedish officials to approve a special category of tractor--not one sold at dealerships, but one that individuals could create from any car. All they had to do was convert the car to a two-seater. Many enterprising farmers made good use of Ford Model As this way.

The tractors were commonly referred to as "EPA tractors", a reference to Einheitspreis AG, a discount store once popular in Europe that's occasionally been compared to Sears & Roebuck. In the 1960s, Swedish legislators tried to do away with this class of vehicle, but the public outcry was deafening. Instead, officials kept the category but clarified it. The vehicles are now known as A-tracktors, short for "Class A tractor". (They're not called EPA tractors anymore because Einheitspreis AG no longer exists.)

A-tracktors are subject to numerous restrictions. For example, each one has to have a truck bed and a hitch, and an A-tracktor can't have a crew cab at all. Also, the car that the A-tracktor is built from has to be in good working order prior to the conversion. And there's a speed limit, too: A-tracktors can't be capable of traveling faster than 22 mph (though apparently, owners have rigged them so that they're capable of doing so).

And of course, A-tracktors have to be inspected before receiving the bright reflective triangle that signals "slow-moving vehicle" to other drivers.

Once they're registered with the government, A-tracktors can be driven by motorists as young as 15 without a license. That's made them very popular in Sweden where driver's licenses aren't issued until people turn 18.

Our take

The question that's crossed our mind is: have these speed-limited vehicles helped keep Sweden's auto fatality rate low by giving younger drivers some early training? It's possible.

Consider this: in the U.S. in 2013, there were 32,719 auto-related deaths, or 10.6 per 100,000 people. In Sweden, the figure for that year was 2.8. If we'd had a fatality rate that low, nearly 25,000 fewer drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists would've died on U.S. roads that year. Makes ya think.  

Online, you can find quite a few videos of older EPA-tracktors and newer A-tracktors in action, but most clips are in Swedish and lack subtitles. We've embedded one of the few English-language clips above, for those who'd like to know more.

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