The Swedish Agency for Public Management

Green, yellow or red light? Assessment of changes in the division of responsibility for driver's license matters (2014:25)

On 1 January 2010 the Swedish Transport Agency took over responsibility for processing driver's license matters from the county councils. The work mainly consists of issuing provisional driver's licenses and private driving instructor's licenses and making decisions to revoke issued driver's licenses. In a single year, the Transport Agency makes approximately 600,000 decisions on driver's license matters. In 2013 the transferred work cost SEK 270 million.

The overall aim of the organisational change was to gather all traffic permit operations within the Transport Agency. The Government also formulated goals for the reform that would lead to a reduction in costs for the driver's license operations, shorter processing times and improved conditions for the consistent application of law.

On behalf of the Government, Statskontoret has evaluated the driver's license reform. The commission included establishing what lessons could be learnt and applied to similar organisational changes within the Government.

The goals of the driver's license reform have been partially met

Statskontoret's evaluation shows that:

  • The goal of reducing the costs of the driver's license operations by approximately SEK 50 million per year has not been met. The actual costs of the transferred operations have increased by approximately SEK 55 million. Taking price developments and operational changes into consideration, the costs have increased by SEK 17 million.
  • The goal of shortening processing times has been partially met, as the Transport Agency now processes and makes automatic decisions on many private driving instructor's licenses and provisional driver's licenses within a few days.
  • The conditions for developing the quality of the driver's license operations have improved. The reform's goal of creating better conditions for a more consistent application of law has therefore been met.
  • Opportunities for the general public to communicate with the responsible driver's license authority have improved. The goal that all citizens should be able to contact the Transport Agency in respect of driver's license matters has been met.
  • The conditions for cooperation with regional authorities have worsened as the processing of cases is no longer organised regionally. However, the conditions for cooperation on a national and international level have improved.

Lessons from the implementation of the driver's license reform

The driver's license reform meant that the processing of a sizeable number of cases was transferred from 21 county councils to a relatively new government agency. At the same time, the previously paper-based processing became digital and partially automated. However, Statskontoret's evaluation shows that the reform was preceded by insufficient analysis of these challenges and how they could be resolved. This resulted in the Transport Agency's driver's license organisation initially lacking sufficient processing capacity and it took a long time to finish cases which had been initiated by the county councils.

Operations that are reorganised must be thoroughly analysed

The most important lesson to be learnt from the driver's license reform is that any reorganisation of operations must be preceded by a thorough analysis. The driver's license reform clearly shows that there are serious consequences to not analysing the prerequisites for an organisational change, and what preparations are required for the reform work to be successful. The reforms have so far cost approximately SEK 200 million. A significant proportion of these costs could have been avoided if the reform had been better prepared.

Initially, the Transport Agency could not live up to the legislated requirements regarding how government agencies should process cases. The Transport Agency has also been criticised by the Parliamentary Ombudsmen for errors in processing which have been deemed hard to excuse and which are notable from a legal security standpoint.

It was not until 2013 that the Transport Agency had completely dealt with the large backlog of open cases that arose when the driver's license operations were transferred. The problems associated with starting up an effective case processing system have affected individual citizens and have had a negative effect on traffic safety work. One consequence of the reform is that approximately 11,000 fewer driver's licenses have been revoked, mainly due to processing beginning too late or merely due to indications that a revocation might be necessary having been filed with the case.

Examine the preconditions for digitising carefully

The challenges associated with the development of a working, digital and partially automated case processing system were underestimated. The administrative support system that the Agency produced for the driver's license operations was insufficient in scope, it was too slow and had not been fully tested. System breakdowns were common in the early stages and for several years there was a risk that the system would break down. Overall, this has led to major problems in the processing of matters received.

The possibility of increasing efficiency at the Transport Agency through new technology was also overestimated. The assumption that the Transport Agency could halve the number of its administrators proved to be incorrect. The Agency used as many annual work units in the transferred operations in 2013 as the county councils did before the reform.

Conduct a risk analysis ahead of major organisational reforms

Ahead of similar reorganisations, the Government should ensure that a risk analysis is conducted for the government agency in question, in respect of the risk that the agency fails to live up to the legislated processing requirements regarding quality, legal security and administrator capacity during the reform work. The Government can use the risk analysis as data for weighing any problems that a reform process entails against the advantages that the reform is expected to lead to. A well-conducted risk analysis also provides the Government with foresight to handle problems that may arise during the implementation.

One example of a matter that the Government would have needed better foresight to handle was how to organise the transfer of open cases. The Transport Agency and the county councils could not agree on the legal preconditions for gradually transferring the processing of cases. The Transport Agency now had to receive 9.5 million documents and 135,000 open cases overnight. The cases also needed to be imported into the new digital case processing system before the Transport Agency could continue processing them. This contributed significantly to the problems that the Transport Agency had, with large backlogs of cases and long processing times.

The Government should monitor how costs develop for the administration of driver's licenses

Statskontoret believes that the conditions do exist for reducing the costs of the driver's license operations over time. The driver's license department has mainly focused its strategic work on handling the problems that arose in connection with the starting up of its operations. In 2013, work was still being conducted to clear the backlog of cases that arose in connection with the transfer. It should now be possible to utilise the major advantages of the large-scale processing that the reform entails to reach a lower cost level. To ensure that the Transport Agency utilises the opportunities to introduce more cost-efficient processing which the driver's license reform presents, Statskontoret recommends

  • that the Government commissions the Transport Agency to account for the development of costs associated with driver's license operations, and to report on the measures the Agency has taken to increase the efficiency of the operations.

The Government should review the Swedish Transport Agency's mandate to make automatic decisions

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has questioned whether the Transport Agency has the legal right to make automatic decisions in driver's license matters. Statskontoret recommends

  • that the Government should examines whether the legal regulation should be changed in respect of the extent of the Transport Agency's mandate to make automatic decisions.
  • that the Government commissions the Transport Agency to account for the advantages and disadvantages associated with changing the regulation so that more types of driver's license cases can be decided automatically.