Minis used by Charles McCartney. | Humphrey Carter

CHARLES McCartney has been working as an international driving instructor in Mallorca for the past 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 the best part of 40 years. After having come and gone so many times, the situation arose for them to sell up in Scotland, offload the apartment 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 touch and go; he and his Spanish partner are literally going flat out.

One of the reasons is that a sizable number of British expatriates failed to lodge their request to exchange their UK driving licence for a Spanish one before the deadline at the end of 2020.

As the current situation stands, UK driving licences will no longer be valid for UK residents in Spain after the end of next month, although the British Embassy is locked in talks with the Spanish authorities to try and resolve the problem and secure a longer extension or a deal similar to the one struck in France.

The French agreed to honour UK licences until they expire, when the holder will have to take a French driving test. But should the Spanish refuse any further extensions or a new deal, scores of British expatriates in Spain who missed the deadline will not be able to drive on a UK licence. They will have to take a Spanish test and that means the theory and the practical.

Charles has a growing number of British clients caught in the Brexit trap.

“I have to admit that it is their fault, but I’m on hand to help resolve 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 need to answered correctly. In Spain there are 30 and 27 have to be right.

“The practical is not as hard. It involves a 20 minute drive around Palma and parking as opposed to 45 minutes in the UK with a three-point turn, reversing, emergency stops and all that.

“To be honest, even for those whose Spanish is not up to speed for the test, there are only around 30 key words drivers have to know,. But it does require a lot of studying. Just because someone may have been driving on a UK licence for years doesn’t mean they’re going to pass the Spanish driving test.

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“In fact, trying to prepare experienced drivers for the Spanish test is quite often more difficult than teaching a fresh driver, because over the years they’ve adopted so many bad habits which we’ve got to get rid of, and that can be quite challenging.

“Another problem, and this applies to all drivers taking their tests, is that all of the tests are taken in Palma and there is not a central test centre. Moreover, the tests start in different locations, so in essence every test is different. There are something like 50 to 60 tests and if the driver being examined doesn't know Palma that well, it can be a challenge.

“For that reason I conduct all of my classes in Palma. One advantage is that driving around Palma is not like driving round London, Manchester of Birmingham, for example, but it has its hurdles which have to be overcome.

“Recently I had two expatriates who needed to take their Spanish test aged in their 70s and they both passed. But it is an unfortunate situation for many. I’ve had about 30 calls over the past few weeks from expatriates who failed to apply to exchange their licence 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 in the UK for that matter.

“At least the theory can be taken in English or German, so that makes it slightly easier, but at the end of the day, like I’ve said, it involves a lot of studying. Trial tests can be carried out online, so it’s a question of getting one’s head down and getting used to the Spanish way of learning to drive. It’s a case of being prepared to start afresh, forget the fact you’ve been driving for years and get your head around the Spanish system.

“In a way, Brexit has been good for business and who knows what’s going to happen, whether there will be another extension - there have already been three - or some new long-term deal. At the end of the day I’m still extremely busy.

“Normally, my Spanish partner at Groc Auto Escoles takes care of the Spanish clients, but I do get quite a few parents come to me who want their child to be taught by a British instructor. For some reason they think their child will get better instruction. Whatever!"

Charles tries to offer an all-island service and tailor-made driving lessons for all abilities. He has a pick-up and drop-off service for his pupils, be it from work or home.

“I am surprised, however, that, apart from there not being a test centre in Palma, there are not more around the island like in Inca and Manacor, for example. Potential clients contact me from the very south of the island and I have to arrange a meeting point nearer Palma because the driving lessons need to be carried out in Palma. It’s neither cost nor time effective to spend an hour or more driving in each direction for a single lesson, so I try to arrange for people to come nearer to Palma where I can pick them up and then head for the city.

“And believe it or not, the Spanish system is very good. There is no excuse for any bad drivers to be on the road.”