The most difficult and circuitous road to a Spanish driving license

On the main road to Málaga

My husband got his first driving license in Mexico in 1969. I got mine in Norway in 1981. We both have valid Canadian driving licenses, international driving licenses and official prof of perfect driving record in Canada for the past five years. We have been driving for a combined 78 years – Yet, we found ourselves back to driving school to get our Spanish driving license.

It is said that the Spanish road and vehicle rules are three times as wordy as the English ones. One American expat compared his Spanish driving exam to passing the US bar exam, prefering the law studies!

Driving students in Spain must enroll in a school, attend classes and answer endless online tests with a combination of 15.800 multiple-choice questions prepared by the Spanish driving authorities. When it comes to actual driving practice, young Spaniards cannot learn from their parents, but have to do all their driving with a qualified teacher. One would think that after all this Spanish roads would be very safe. Not so. Spain tops the European accident statistics, second only after Portugal.

Expats on the coast can choose an English driving school and do their classes in English, but in Ronda this is not an option. Nobody speaks anything but Spanish here. We tried to get the English translation of the theory book as an additional help for me, but after ten days of waiting, I gave up and grudgingly started reading the Spanish book. (My first one- baptism by fire)  The 238 pages took me two full weeks to get through, asking the online dictionary or my husband for translations every other sentence. Motor vehicle authorities do not use normal language in any country and Spain is no exception. Of course I know the name people use for a car – either ‘coche’ or ‘auto’, but the motor vehicle authority term is ‘turismo’. There are endless examples like this, not only referring to cars and roads. For instance using nuances when describing a fog as being thick, dense, spread, light, scattered etc. In every online exam I did, (and we did about 150 of them with more than 4500 questions!!!) I did not know important words, which for instance would either make the car skid outwards or inwards in a curb. A few unknowns like this, and I would get more than the measly 3 mistakes allowed and fail the exam – while knowing all the theory required.

Talking of theory, the details students are supposed to know are dumbfounding. When again in my life will I need to know that the L-sign for a new driver is 15 cm by 19,5 cm? Or that bluish white smoke from the exhaust pipe could mean that there is oil in the combustion chamber (Where is my mechanic?) Or that only motorcycles without sidecars can enter with a specific sign. Or that a special farm vehicle weighing over 3500 kg with a hanger, or without break light, have a reduced maximum speed limit of 25 km/h instead of 40km/h?

In addition, Spain has laws that seem very curious for us who has driven in overly secure Canada. For instance, helmets are compulsory for bicycles in rural areas (not urban) but if the temperature is ‘exceedingly hot’ you do not need to wear it. Not that anoyone follows the rules anyhow… The speed limit rules for each class of vehicle for each specific road or the backing up rules for the 11 different classes of vehicles meeting in narrow sections are enough to make anyone cry, or simply decide to walk!

So here we were in a classroom with ‘kids’ who look forward to celebrating their 20th birthday, calculating that we almost could be their grandparents! I have to give it to them, our teacher Encarna and the staff in our driving school were absolutely fabulous, especially considering that they had to teach a foreigner. It became a saying at the school that if  a Norwegian could pass the Spanish driving theory exam, then anyone could… I would say that if I passed the exam, it would be a small miracle, and if I did not, it would not be for lack of trying. And, thankfully, nobody here can put you up to the wall and shoot you for failing a test.

On the day of our theory exam, held in what looked like a bomb shelter in the suburbs and guarded by two most official looking examinators, a friend had gone to light a candle for us. On our walk to the exam we also passed our friend Pépe. He was so worried about our exam that he called his mother -who prays more and thus has more clout with the ones above- and asked her to light candle for us!

Be it our incessant studies for the past weeks, our capable and patient teacher, or the candles lit for us, miracle over miracle, we both actually did pass the Spanish theory exam. And now awaits another challenge, the Spanish driving test…

Car unloading in the Casco Histórico


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