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UNDERSTANDING SWEDES

Why do Swedish teenagers drive small and excruciatingly slow cars?

If you've spent time in Swedish rural towns, you may have come across groups of teenagers driving small cut-off cars with a max speed of 30km/h and an orange warning triangle on the back. What are they and why do they exist?

EPA tractor on a swedish road
An EPA tractor on the roads of Gävle, Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg / TT

These cars are a uniquely Swedish invention, a historical loophole still used today by teenagers who enjoy the freedom they provide – they are officially known as A-traktor (A-tractors), but are also referred to by their older name, EPA-traktor. These cars are more common in rural areas of Sweden – in some municipalities such as Ånge in the Västernorrland region, almost half of all teenagers drive an A-tractor

Some young A-tractor drivers once explained the reasoning behind their popularity to public broadcaster SVT. “You can get where you want to go without needing a lift, which can be nice on a rainy day. And then there’s the community as well,” said Isak Ahnlund. “You get to know everyone. You hang out on the weekends, drive EPA, listen to music and meet people,” A-tractor owner Estelle Möller told SVT.

The name A-tractor reflects the history of these cars – they were originally developed when agricultural vehicles were in short supply, so the government decided to make it legal to alter standard cars so they were able to be used as tractors.

This is also reflected in the rules for A-tractors which still apply today – they have a maximum speed of 30km/h, cannot have a back seat (hence their cut-off appearance) and must be able to tow agricultural equipment or other vehicles. The gearbox is also limited, meaning that the driver can only use first and second gear.

The orange warning triangle on the back, signalling the limited speed of the vehicle, is called a LGF-skylt; LGF is an acronym of långsamtgående fordon, or slow-moving vehicle. 

Nowadays, they are less popular as agricultural vehicles and more popular as cars for teenagers – anyone over the age of 15 can drive one as long as they have a moped or tractor driving licence. The minimum age for a normal driving licence allowing you to drive a car is 18 in Sweden, which is why you’ll rarely see adults driving one of these vehicles.

Many of them are hand-built or hand-altered from standard cars, meaning that they are often personalised to the owner, with colours, decorations or decals reflecting the owner’s personality. They are also notorious for having loud stereo systems, sometimes leading to complaints from locals tired of listening to teenagers allegedly driving dangerously and playing loud music.

An EPA-tractor in 1990. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

An increase in injuries in accidents involving A-tractors this summer has brought them to the top of the agenda, with the Swedish government asking the Transport Agency to investigate whether the rules should be altered.

The Transport Agency will investigate whether there is a need for stricter safety requirements for A-tractors, as well as looking at the possibility of introducing new rules or standards to make them harder to manipulate. A change to their maximum speed limit may also be discussed, from a safety and climate perspective.

If you want to find out more about A-tractors and are anywhere near Hälsingland north of Stockholm, Hälsinglands Museum is currently hosting a photography exhibition by photographer Benjamin Nørskov titled EPA Sverige, depicting A-tractors from across the country.

Member comments

  1. Thanks for the explanation.
    My experience of encountering these vehicles (a few times per week) is that they cause traffic congestion by holding up ‘normal speed’ drivers and increase the risk of accidents as a result of the frustration caused to other drivers. It will be very interesting to see the results of the Transport Agency investigation.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

What’s in a name? Getting to grips with the Swedish postal system

OPINION: I'd never thought before moving abroad that something as simple as the procedure for delivering a parcel could differ so much between different countries. Oh, how wrong I was...

a woman collecting a parcel from an ICA supermarket
Good luck persuading postal workers to deliver your parcels if they're addressed to your nickname. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In the UK, where I grew up, parcel delivery regulations are relatively loose. Friends have sent letters to me addressed to all manner of nicknames based on my name, Becky, with “Beckminsterfullerene” a particular highlight. These letters always reached me without issue, as the UK’s postal service, Royal Mail, is relatively unbothered about whether the name on the post matches the name of the recipient.

I suspect that this is partly due to the fact that the UK has no up-to-date records of all residents, with their full legal name tied to their current address.

The closest we have to this system is a census is carried out once a decade, supplemented by the electoral register, listing registered voters’ address and name. This means that the British postal service, Royal Mail, does not have a country-wide population register against which they can check addresses against the names of the people who actually live there.

Sweden, however, could not be more different. The name on your parcel must match the name on your ID, or they will refuse to hand over your parcel. This isn’t just postal service workers being difficult – their IT system will not approve parcel delivery if this ID doesn’t match.

Here, parcel delivery and the postal service is closely linked to the folkbokföringsregistret – the population register, where everyone living in Sweden with a personnummer (a Swedish identity number) is listed with their name and current address. Not being listed on this register is the reason why some people living in Sweden without a personnummer sometimes may have trouble receiving post.

This can be extremely irritating, but actually makes sense in my opinion – if the postal service can’t confirm that the recipient lives at the address, then how do they know that important post isn’t being delivered to the wrong person? With vital documents such as bank cards and pin numbers still being delivered by post, this is actually a smart protective measure against identity theft and fraud.

As you may expect, my friends and family at home find this hard to believe, as they are used to a system where the name on the parcel is completely unimportant. This has led to some infuriating discussions at my local supermarket where I pick up my parcels, with postal service workers refusing to hand over my post for a number of seemingly trivial reasons. Scroll down to read some of my best (or worst?) stories.

1. The Christmas present saga

Last year, my dad sent me a pair of trainers as a Christmas present. To make postage easier, he decided to order them directly from the website to my address in Sweden, rather than ordering them to my parents’ home in the UK first.

In theory, this was a good idea, saving postal costs for him and saving the environmental impact of two journeys instead of one.

In practice, I didn’t get the parcel until February, two months after he ordered it.

The reason for this was that he, without thinking, had addressed the parcel to Becky. Unfortunately, my legal name is Rebecca. The parcel arrived at my local post office in good time for Christmas, so I dutifully grabbed my Swedish driver’s licence and my ID card from the Tax Agency and headed out to pick it up.

When I got there, they refused to hand it over. I patiently explained that I was, in fact, Becky, and that Becky is a common nickname for Rebecca.

“I understand,” said the postal worker, “but I still can’t deliver the parcel to you, as it doesn’t match the name on your ID. You’ll have to call Postnord [the Swedish postal service] and ask them to change the name on the parcel in our system before I can hand it over.”

She helpfully gave me Postnord’s phone number and sent me on my way.

Later that day, I called their number, and was met with a 45 minute phone queue – understandable, considering this was just before Christmas, and just before the UK was due to leave the EU, so they were undoubtedly bogged-down with calls asking about customs information.

Eventually, I got through and explained the issue. “We can’t change the name,” they informed me. “You’re not the sender of the parcel, so you’ll have to ask the sender to change the name instead”. I sighed, thanked them for their time and called my dad. He doesn’t speak Swedish, so I drafted an email for him to send to Postnord.

My shoes were on a shelf like this five minutes away from my apartment for two months. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

A few days later, he got a reply. “According to the system, this parcel was sent from a shoe company, not from you. You need to contact the shoe company and get them to change the name instead.”

At this point, we were getting quite annoyed. There were only a few days left to Christmas, and the parcel was only going to be stored in the post office for 60 days before being sent back. The UK was due to leave the EU in January 2021, meaning that we would have to pay import tax if it got returned before we could sort this out.

We contacted the shoe company, based in the UK, and the British customer service representative was perplexed. She was happy to help change the name, but the Postnord website had no information in English, so I had to painstakingly translate the relevant pages. She informed me she would see what she could do, but with Christmas and New Years coming up, they were unlikely to be able to get it done before January.

We waited. January came and went, and the problem still hadn’t been resolved. With just a few days left until the parcel was to be sent back to the UK, I tried one last time to pick it up.

I had a thought – maybe if I took my UK passport with me, they would be able to hand over the parcel? Swedish driving licences have a barcode on the back which postal workers scan, automatically uploading ID into the postal system, meaning errors can’t manually be fixed by postal workers. My foreign passport doesn’t have this barcode – maybe they can change the data manually?

I stood in the queue, heart racing, feeling like I was about to do something illegal. I smiled and handed over my passport like everything was normal. The postal worker typed in my details and went to collect my parcel.

“Is this really happening?” I thought. “Have I gone through all of this when I could have just gone in with my passport instead?”

I still don’t know whether my name was updated in the system or whether she manually input my name as Becky instead of Rebecca.

One thing is certain though: my dad has never sent a parcel to me addressed as Becky since.

2. The baby gift addressed to my newborn daughter

You may have thought that was my only story – if only!

Another issue I had goes back to when my 18-month-old daughter was a newborn. One of my English friends had very kindly ordered a book addressed to me, my husband and our daughter.

Unfortunately, she had only written our first names on the parcel. This was an issue for a number of reasons: firstly, my newborn daughter did not yet have a passport, so there was no way of proving her identity.

Secondly, my husband’s last name was not on the parcel, so we couldn’t prove his identity.

Thirdly, it was addressed to Becky rather than Rebecca, meaning that my name didn’t match the name on the parcel.

Still waiting for your newborn’s passport? You’ll have to wait before you can collect their first post. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Finally, me and my daughter were still waiting for our personnummer applications to be approved, meaning our names were not listed in the Swedish population register and therefore we didn’t exist on the postal service’s system.

I went down to the post office with my husband’s passport, my passport, our wedding certificate, my daughter’s birth certificate, wearing my daughter in our baby carrier. This wasn’t enough. They believed we were who I said we were, but their system wouldn’t let them hand over the parcel without valid approved ID.

We had the same issue as above – she had ordered the parcel directly from Amazon to save postage rather than sending it directly from the UK, so they were responsible for changing the names on the order.

Unfortunately, they were so slow to act that the parcel was returned.

We did get the book in the end though – we ordered it ourselves from a Swedish company instead and my friend sent over the money.

3. The wedding present addressed to the wrong last name

The final story for this article happened after my husband and I got married. I had chosen to keep my last name, something I had mentioned to family and friends in the run-up to the wedding. A woman keeping her name upon marriage is unusual in the UK, so most of my British friends and family had assumed I would take my husband’s name instead.

Despite this, my mum very excitedly sent a parcel to us after the wedding with some gifts from family. She followed British naming customs, meaning that parcels are addressed to Mr & Mrs, followed by the husband’s first initial and last name. Understandably, this confused the Swedish postal service.

Titles such as Mr and Mrs are uncommon in Sweden, and letters addressed to married women are not addressed to their husband’s name (quite rightly if you ask me), so they were confused as to why I was trying to explain to them that the parcel was addressed to me, despite the initial and last name not matching my own name.

Shes going to have to update her name in the population register before picking up any wedding presents. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/Scanpix

If this wasn’t bad enough, my mum had also misspelled my husband’s surname. By some miracle, the postal worker agreed to hand over the parcel once I produced my husband’s passport and explained that my British mum wasn’t particularly used to writing Swedish surnames, not without reluctantly commenting “I shouldn’t really be doing this…”.

Somewhat exasperated, I rang my mum and patiently explained that no, I hadn’t changed my surname and no, people don’t really use Mr and Mrs here, and yes, it is important that parcels match the recipient’s legal name.

All credit to her, she hasn’t done it again – although I do still call her before she sends a parcel just to make sure.

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