Texting behind the wheel: Soon illegal in Sweden, too?

While most people would probably agree that texting and driving is a bad idea, using a handheld mobile phone behind the wheel is still pretty much perfectly legal in Sweden. But that could soon be about to change.

Texting behind the wheel: Soon illegal in Sweden, too?
Soon illegal? Photo: Erik Nylander/TT
Sweden remains one of very few European countries that still allow mobile phone use while driving, without using hands-free. 
A 2016 survey by the Swedish Transport Agency (Transportstyrelsen) found that 37 percent of Swedes text while driving. For those aged 18-30, the figure was 56 percent.
The current law, which was introduced in 2013, only bans drivers from using their phones in a manner that could be deemed “detrimental” to their driving. Whether someone's driving has been “detrimental” due to their mobile phone usage is down to the police to determine, but that has proven difficult.
Transportstyrelsen now wants to introduce a ban on mobile phone usage except with hands-free, and was backed by the Swedish government at a press briefing on Tuesday.
“It's hard for the police to determine whether it's the mobile phone usage that's resulted in the dangerous traffic behaviour, and it's hard to prove,” said Transportstyrelsen project manager Therese Malmström.
Minister for Infrastructure Anna Johansson said there were two good reasons for introducing a ban: the first being that Sweden would then live up to the Vienna Convention on traffic safety, which recommends a ban on handheld mobiles while driving. The second reason would be about clarity.
“I've met many people who think it is permitted to drive while texting or using your mobile in other ways. That is not the case,” Johansson said.
The change proposed by Transportstyrelsen reads, in full: “When driving on a road with a motor vehicle, the driver is allowed activities such as using a mobile phone and other communications equipment only if it is not detrimental to the driving of the vehicle. As such, the driver is not allowed to use a mobile phone in such a way that he or she holds it in his or her hand.”
For members


The nine ways you can lose your driving licence in Sweden

There are nine official reasons you can be stripped of your driving license in Sweden, from the obvious – drunken driving or speeding – to less obvious ones, like being involved in a bar fight, drug dealing, or being a known alcoholic. We explain the system.

The nine ways you can lose your driving licence in Sweden

1. Driving too fast (and breaking other rules which are important for traffic safety)

According to the guide on the website of the Swedish Transport Agency, the most common reason people have their driving licenses seized and withdrawn is if they are driving between 31km/h and 40km/h too fast. 

For this the penalty is normally to have your driving license suspended for two months. 

If you are speeding in a village with a 30km/h speed limit, then you only need to drive between 21km/h and 30km/h too fast to have your licence temporarily taken away. 

You can also lose your license for two months if you drive through a red light, and sometimes for as long as four months for general “careless driving”. 

Other transgressions which risk your license include: 

  • Driving over a zebra crossing when there are people on it 
  • Driving illegally (for instance when your car is uninsured, or without having passed your test) 
  • Not keeping sufficient distance from the car in front 

2. Drink or drug driving 

If you are caught drink driving, or suspected of committing a drink-driving offence, your license can be suspended. 

The suspension is usually for 12 months for both drug driving or drink driving, but can be extended to 24 months or more in cases of severe or repeated offences. 

If you you register less than 0.15mg/l of alcohol on a breathalyser, you might get away with a warning. 

Photo: Swedish Transport Agency

3. Repeated traffic offences

If you commit repeated minor traffic offences within the same two-year period, such as minor speeding offences or failing to use a seatbelt, you can have your driving license suspended, normally for two months if you have been previously issued with a warning. 

4. Hit-and-run driving  

If you are involved in a traffic accident and instead of stopping to exchange your details and check that any others involved are OK, you drive off, you can have your license suspended for between two and six months. 

5. Unreliability when it comes to sobriety

If you have an alcohol or drug problem, you don’t even have to be caught drink driving to lose your license. If you are taken in by the police for public drunkenness “a number of times”, or the Transport Agency receives other information that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, it can suspend your license on the grounds of “unreliability when it comes to sobriety”. 

Your license will normally suspended until a year has passed since your last caution for being under the influence. 

 6. Committing another serious crime 

You don’t need to commit a driving offence to have your license suspended, sometimes any serious offence will be enough. If you, for instance, commit a serious bodily assault, get convicted of serious drugs crimes, or allow others to drive illegally, this can be grounds for suspending your driving license. 

Your license can be suspended for anything between a month and three years, but, according to the agency, a year is most common. 

7. Your driving license was issued on illegal grounds 

If it turns out that you were cheating during your driving test, or submitted false information to the Transport Agency, you can have your license withdrawn indefinitely. 

8. Sickness or injury 

If you are diagnosed with a sickness or suffer an injury which means that you no longer meet the minimum medial requirements to have a driving license, you can have your license withdrawn indefinitely. 

This could happen, for instance, if your eyesight deteriorates severely, or you are diagnosed with ADHD, autism, or similar neurological conditions. 

According to the agency, having ADHD or autism is “in the majority of cases no problem for having a driving license”. But if you have a diagnosis, you need to send in a doctor’s note which lays out how severe your condition is. You can find the form here

When it comes to eyesight, you need to have visual acuity of at least 0.5 when you see with both eyes to keep your license. 

If you are prescribed medicine for diabetes, you also need to send the agency a doctor’s note laying out the severity of your condition. Find that here

9. You haven’t sent in a doctor’s note

If the agency asks you to send in a doctor’s note and you fail to do so, your driving license an be withdrawn indefinitely. 

Photo: Swedish Transport Agency

What do I have to do to get a new driving license after it has been withdrawn? 

Even if you only lose your license for two months, it’s actually more a withdrawal than a suspension, so you will need to get a entirely new license. You can’t just start using your old one again. 

If your driving license is suspended for less than a year 

If your driving license is suspended for less than a year, and was suspended for speeding or other traffic offences, you can receive a new driving license without any addition assessment. 

When your suspension is over, the transport agency will automatically send you an application form for a new driving license. You can also apply digitally here

If, however, it is suspended for one year or less for drink-driving, severe careless driving, unreliable sobriety, or other serious crimes, you need to also apply for a new provisional driving license or körkortstillstånd, which you can do up to six months before your ban expires, and which can be awarded within two months of your ban expiring. 

If the agency gives you a provisional driving license, you will then be sent an application form for a new driving licence. 

If your driving license is suspended for more than a year 

If your driving license is suspended for more than a year, then you need to take a new driving test.

To do this you must first be issued with a new provisional driving license or körkortstillstånd, which you can apply for when you have less than six months of your suspension remaining, and can be awarded with two months’ suspension remaining. 

As well as passing a driving test, you will also have to undergo a special course on driving risks.