In the Scandinavian country, they are called "A-traktor" and these vehicles are so successful, including now in cities, that the authorities are worried about a drift of a system born at the base almost a century ago to counter the shortage of tractors in the countryside.

"I got it a year ago, in April, for my birthday, because I have very good grades at school," Evelina proudly told AFP in front of her 5 Series model, BMW's top-of-the-range model, parked in front of her home.

Where teenagers have to settle for a moped, scooter or cart until they get a driver's license, young Swedes can use most of the vehicles available on the market, as long as they are restrained.

In the upscale suburbs of Stockholm, you can meet teenagers alone at the wheel of a Porsche Cayenne.

"I usually use it when I go to school or when I go out with friends, to play music," says Evelina, whose car is equipped in the trunk with a huge audio speaker.

"It's almost like a normal car, you learn quickly," said the teenager with a headband and down jacket, whose father is a police officer.

© Alma COHEN / AFP

Distinguishing sign: a triangular sign indicating a slow vehicle and a towing ball... mandatory to be legally considered an "A-traktor".

The rear seat must be removed but a simple moped license - available from 15 years - or tractor - at 16 - is enough.

An unlikely rule in a country champion of road safety, known for inventing the three-point seat belt and its draconian rules on drinking and driving.

The system was even relaxed in mid-2020, with an electronic clamping making it even easier to convert a modern car.

Surge in accidents

Children in the cities are now copying more children in the fields and the number of A-traktors has almost doubled to over 50,000 for 10.3 million Swedes.

The story goes back to the shortage of agricultural equipment during the crisis of the 30s and then during the Second World War, which militarily spares Sweden remained neutral but the cut of its supplies.

A garage specializing in converting ordinary cars into "A Traktors", February 28, 2023, in Balsta, northwest of Stockholm, Sweden © Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

To promote the development of cheap vehicles when tractors are still inaccessible to farmers' purses, the government allows them to tinker with simple cars.

In the 1950s, the real tractor became widespread with falling prices and economic prosperity, and this D system tended to disappear.

But in the countryside, it quickly becomes a trick for young people to travel without a license, especially in sparsely populated areas without much public transport.

The State regulated the practice - notably with a maximum speed - but ratified it by officially creating the "A-traktor" regime in 1963.

A privilege jealously defended for decades in rural Sweden, pushing the authorities to wait until 2018 to introduce mandatory roadworthiness testing.

And a battle is coming: the European Commission criticised the system at the beginning of March, proposing to make a simplified permit mandatory.

For many rural teenagers, the A-traktor embodies a dream of independence, the object of a real subculture of customization and even a musical genre, the "EPA Dunk".

In Karlstad in western Sweden, 17-year-old Ronja Löfgren caused a sensation with her old 5.5-tonne Scania Vabis truck from 1964, saved from scrapping by her father.

Pampered by the teenager, it now sports a gleaming red and blue body, headlights galore, and the motto "Queen of the road" inscribed at the front and "Go with style" at the rear.

"When I went to town at first, everyone would take out their phones to film me," she told AFP.

Since the 2020 relaxation, insurers and police officers have been alarmed by the surge in accidents, which have more than quintupled in five years.

The number of injured has exceeded 200 per year and 2022 was marked by four deaths.

© 2023 AFP