ETF Raises Concerns Over Changes to EU Driving License Rules

19 Feb 2024

In view of the European Parliament’s upcoming debate and vote on changes to driving license rules in the EU, the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) voices its concerns regarding the proposed reduction in the minimum age for truck and bus licenses. Last December, the TRAN Committee backed the Commission’s proposal to issue truck driving licenses to 17-year-olds, under the accompanied driving license scheme. At the same time, the reduction in the recommended minimum age for truck driving to 18 across the EU poses a further threat to road safety, as it will cause more Member States to follow suit. The changes also extend to driving licenses for buses, where the reduction of the minimum age in national journeys, is 18 and 19, which is equally alarming.

On the surface, these measures are aimed at addressing the shortage of professional drivers in road transport; however, they fail to acknowledge the actual problem — a high vacancy rate resulting from unattractive working conditions and inadequate pay, as revealed by the ETF study on third-country nationals in road transport.

The ETF study reveals a critical contradiction in the discourse of the industry and policymakers, challenging the conventional framing of the professional driver shortage. Contrary to the assumption, the shortage does not indicate a lack of qualified workers; it signifies a “high vacancy rate” with numerous positions left unfilled due to the unattractiveness of the profession. The increasing precarity and the exploitative working conditions are very likely causes of recruitment difficulties in the sector. Overall, when compared with other sectors in all EU-27 countries during the period 2010–2018, the transport and storage sector recorded the smallest median wage increase in real terms.

In the current narrative, the institutional response to the shortage tends towards counterproductive measures. These are reducing the minimum age for driving licenses, flexibilization, and opening the profession to more vulnerable third-country nationals. The ETF calls for a fundamental shift in framing the discussion to respond to the industry’s need for sustainable solutions.

The ETF emphasizes that the changes to driving licenses will exacerbate the root issues of a sector in decline. As underlined in a previous joint statement by the ETF, ETSC, ECF, and FEVR; serious risks are associated with allowing teenagers to drive trucks with a weight of 40-tonnes or more, according to data from countries already permitting it.

We call on the European Parliament to not allow 17-year-olds to drive trucks, and not to reduce the minimum age for professional bus drivers. Instead, the ETF calls on the industry and policymakers to embrace a paradigm shift in their approach to road transport. The focus should be on ensuring good and attractive jobs: with safety, improved working conditions, and guaranteed fair pay.