Swedish-American invalid carriage caught in Estonian red tape

Nils Niitra
, reporter
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Photo: Mihkel Maripuu

For quite a time, the wheelchaired Jako Stein sought for a fitting vehicle. He got one finally from Sweden but in Estonia the Road Administration requires costly lab tests for a van for years acceptable on Swedish roads. 

«Constantly, I keep hitting the wall as if,» said Mr Stein. «By several directors and experts I have been promised a humane solution but I still end up getting a call from the technical department head stating that without a noise and exhaust gas tests the public health is endangered. While registered in Sweden, was the van a public health issue over there? What a stupid situation, takes so much time as well with writing all these letters...»

For years, Mr Stein was focussed on getting a car like that. «Well it is here now but cannot use it. Standing, for a month.»

It was back in 2005 on a hot summer day that Mr Stein, working outdoors, jumped into water to cool himself, and broke his neck. Of course he was sober.  

He does have another car but, unable to drive it, he is helped by others.

The van from Sweden fits perfectly, a ramp taking him straight behind the wheel, no need to get off wheelchair. The bottom of the van is lowered. With Mr Stein having limited command of his fingers, the usual manual driving fits him not.

«It has a lighter steering, I can put my hand in there,» explained Mr Stein. «Gears and stud is by buttons.» Clearly, not a mass market car.

Mr Stein said the van made in 2001 might as well be registered in Estonia, after which he’d have to do technical inspection anyway to see if it fits requirements.

No way – this ain’t good enough for officialdom.  

The trouble being: the van from USA has no noise and fumes limit value in its Swedish papers.

Now, Road Administration is requiring laboratory tests available in Estonia by a couple of companies. Having asked for an offer from one, Mr Stein was told it’s be €480. The van cost €3,200 and now one will have to fatten someone’s business...   

Having inquired from Sweden, turns out they have not kept the van’s data.

Over Facebook, a Kalju Rüütli sped to his aid, having run into exactly the same trouble in 2008 with an American Land Rover Defender rebuilt or expeditions brought from England. Back then, he had finally sought out a EU document stating that once registered in a member state, a vehicle needs no additional tests save in a situation when public health is severely endangered.  

In Mr Rüütli’s understanding, a van registered in Sweden could not possibly be that bad.  

By the way, the officials encountered by Mr Rüütli in 2008 and by Mr Stein in 2016 are the same individuals. While Mr Rüütli ended up overcoming them back then, Mr Stein is being additionally burdened with a requirement to produce a doctor’s certificate that the modifications in the van for him are substantiated. «How will a medical certificate presented by Mr Stein substantiate modifications in a van in Sweden at the beginning of last decade?» wonders Mr Rüütli.


We have been very accommodating

Road Administration technical department head Jürgo Vahtra categorically denied the tests required serving business interests of private firms.

«To our letters, we have always added a link with all the laboratories,» he said «So people will not have to look for them.»

The Road Administration website mentions three such firms in Estonia. These are the only ones in the land. Turns out, there are no lab tests done in Estonia at all: they take pictures of certain parts of the  cars and send the photos to  lab in Germany.

There, the German specialists check if a car like this has been tested before. If so, they send the earlier data to Estonia.

According to Mr Vahtra, they have already been as accommodating to Jako Stein as the law allows. He did admit that some firms will benefit from the tests, «but if we would not go after these requirements, they could register all vehicles here built in Russia and in the South-East Asia,» he explained.