Charles McCartney has been working as an international driving instructor in Mallorca for 15 years. Prior to this he worked as an instructor in Ayr, Scotland.
Charles and his wife had owned an apartment in Santa Ponsa for almost 40 years. After coming and going so many times, the situation arose for them to sell in Scotland, unload the flat in Santa Ponsa and buy a larger property, which was to become their new home, in Santa Maria. And Charles, pandemic aside, has hardly ever stopped working. Even getting an interview was a breeze; he and his Spanish partner literally go all out.
One of the reasons is that a significant number of British expatriates have not applied to exchange their British driving license for a Spanish before the deadline at the end of 2020.
As things stand, UK driving licenses will no longer be valid for UK residents in Spain after the end of next month, although the British Embassy is in talks with the Spanish authorities to try to resolve the issue. and obtain a longer extension or an agreement similar to that concluded in France.
The French have agreed to honor British licenses until they expire, when the holder will have to pass a French driving test. But if the Spaniards refused further extensions or a new agreement, dozens of British expats in Spain who have overstayed will not be able to drive with a UK licence. They will have to pass a Spanish test, ie theory and practice.
Charles has a growing number of UK customers caught in the Brexit trap.
“I have to admit it’s their fault, but I’m here to help solve the problem. I take my clients through the theory in english. There are not as many questions as in the UK, where there are 55 and 47 that must be answered correctly. In Spain there are 30 and 27 must be right.
“The convenient is not as hard. It involves a 20 minute drive around Palma and parking versus 45 minutes in the UK with a three point turn, reverse, emergency stops and all that.
“To be honest, even for those whose Spanish is not up to date for the test, there are only about 30 key words that drivers need to know. But that takes a lot of study. This n t because someone has been able to drive with a UK license for years does not mean they will pass the Spanish driving test.
“In fact, trying to prepare experienced pilots for the spanish test is often more difficult than teaching a new driver, because over the years they have picked up so many bad habits that we need to get rid of, and it can be quite difficult.
“Another problem, and this applies to all drivers who pass their tests, is that all the tests are passed in Palma and there is no central testing center. Also, the tests start in different places, so each test is essentially different. There’s something like 50-60 tests and if the rider being checked doesn’t know Palma very well, it can be a challenge.
“That’s why I give all my lessons in Palma. One advantage is that driving around Palma is not like driving around London, Manchester or Birmingham, for example, but there are obstacles that need to be overcome.
“Recently I had two expats who were due to take their Spanish test at the age of 70 and they both passed. But this is an unfortunate situation for many. I received about 30 calls on over the past few weeks of expats who have not applied to exchange license before the deadline and, to be honest, most people who passed their test in the UK years ago probably wouldn’t pass the test in Spain now – or the UK for that matter.
“At least the theory can be followed in English or German, which makes things a bit easier, but at the end of the day, as I said, it involves a lot of study. Practice tests can be taken online, so it’s all about getting comfortable and getting used to the Spanish way of learning to drive. It’s about being ready to start afresh, forget the fact that you’ve been driving for years, and familiarize yourself with the Spanish system.
“In a sense, Brexit has been good for business and who knows what will happen, whether there will be another extension – there have already been three – or a new long-term deal. At the end of the day, I’m always extremely busy.
“Normally my Spanish partner at Groc Auto Escoles deals with Spanish customers, but I get quite a few parents who want their child to be taught by a British instructor. For some reason they think their child will get better instruction . No matter!”
Charles tries to offer a service all over the island and tailor-made driving lessons for all levels. It has a pick up and drop off service for its students whether from work or home.
“I am surprised however that, apart from the fact that there is no test center in Palma, there are not more around the island like in Inca and Manacor, for example. Potential clients are contacting me from the far south of the island and I need to arrange a meeting point closer to Palma as the driving lessons are to take place in Palma. It’s not cost effective or quick to spend an hour or more driving in each direction for a single lesson, so I try to get people closer to Palma where I can pick them up and then head to the city.
“And believe it or not, the Spanish system it is very good. There is no excuse for bad drivers on the road.