€1,600 fine for driving dad’s manual BMW with ‘automatic’ driver’s license

A young motorist from Ghent (Belgium) has been sentenced to a heavy fine of 1,600 euros for driving his father’s manual BMW while he only had a driver’s license for an automatic car. He also had to hand in his driver’s license for 15 days and take his practical exam.

In Belgium, holders of a driver’s license category B can drive several motorized four-wheelers, such as cars, vans, mobile homes, and some quads. They are also allowed to drive a car with an automatic gearbox. However, the opposite is not permitted.

Manual transmission most complicated

Those who have taken their practical test in a vehicle with an automatic gearbox will receive a driver’s license, which is only valid for driving cars with an automatic gearbox.

If they still want to drive a manual car, they must at least take two hours of driving lessons at an accredited driving school and practice for at least a month with a provisional driver’s license model 3, which they can apply for from their municipal council. And, of course, they must pass the practical exam with a manual transmission vehicle.

Automatic gearboxes are more popular

Today, candidate drivers tend to opt for a driver’s license for vehicles with an automatic gearbox. As almost all new contemporary and electrified cars are equipped with an automatic gearbox, driver’s licenses for automatic gearboxes also become more popular. In three years, the share of driver’s licenses for passenger cars with an automatic gearbox has doubled, especially in urban areas.

Holders of a driver’s license for vehicles with an automatic transmission will get a restriction on their license – the so-called “code 78′ – and will only be allowed to drive automatically.

Authentic driving pleasure

However, the vast majority still choose a driver’s license that allows them to drive a manual transmission. This license also allows them to drive a car with an automatic transmission. It’s the most versatile choice.

Maybe, in the foreseeable future, everyone will drive automatically anyway, and manipulating the gear lever and clutch pedal will only remain the privilege of those who enjoy authentic driving pleasure.

Safer and easier

According to experts, learning to drive an automatic vehicle is much safer. You can focus 100 percent on the traffic and don’t have to worry about the next gear. Therefore, the exam is also easier. You only have to watch traffic and road signs.

Earlier, mobility organization VAB pleaded to reverse the current system and give everyone an ‘automatic’ driving license as a standard starting from now on. Anyone who would also like to drive manually could do so after a limited series of lessons (e.g., 8 hours) afterward in a driving school. But this proposal is too premature for Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo).

Time-consuming and expensive

However, the most critical factor in choosing which driver’s license you go for is the car you will drive. If you want to find a decent second-hand car, you better learn to shift gears quickly because the number of second-hand vehicles with an automatic transmission is limited and more expensive.

In any case, anyone wanting to convert their automatic driver’s license into a full driving license later must retake the entire practical exam, which takes a lot of time, effort, and money.

Less strict in other countries

These regulations are less strict in other countries. For instance, in Germany and France, you can drop the restriction on your driving license after four hours of training without an additional exam.

Minister of Mobility Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) says that a new European directive is on the table, determining that a minimum of seven hours of training is enough for a full driver’s license.


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