Spanish driving test examiners strike over safety fears

Civil servants who grant driver’s licenses demand more protection from attacks by students

J. Jiménez Gálvez
Driving school vehicles in Móstoles (Madrid).
Driving school vehicles in Móstoles (Madrid).SANTI BURGOS

When Joaquín Jiménez, a driving test examiner with almost three decades of teaching experience behind him, met with members of a congressional road safety commission at the end of last year he told them a disturbing story. “I just had to tell a young man that he had failed his driving test,” began the 53-year-old who lives and works in Seville. “He was in the driving seat and I was sitting behind him. He got out of the car, got into the back and said a few things to me that I am not going to repeat here. But I can say that I was afraid.”

Along with other driving examiners throughout Spain, Jiménez has been on strike for over three weeks, and among other demands, he wants the DGT highways authority to change the law so that the results of driving tests are sent by email or post rather than given in situ to avoid threats and physical intimidation.

Owing to the resistance of the DGT highways authority to their demands, examiners have called a first full-day stoppage for October 21

“We must be given some minimum safety conditions, because sometimes we have to tell people they have failed when we are alone, say in an industrial estate or on some remote stretch of road. And the solution is easy: send the result 24 hours later,” says Jiménez, who is also the president of the Association of Traffic Examiners (Asextra), which has just announced that last week, a man who had failed his test after failing to stop at a pedestrian crossing, threatened both the driving instructor and the examiner.

Around 80 percent of examiners have been on partial strike since September 14, and are only working mornings. This Thursday, owing to the resistance of the DGT to their demands, they also decided to call a first full-day stoppage for October 21.

The DGT says the eight recorded attacks on examiners in 2014 and the 15 registered so far this year do not “represent a serious problem” and are not enough to warrant the strike. It puts the following at more like 28 percent, with most of the strikers in Barcelona, Valencia, Almería and Málaga.

But the stoppage has affected thousands of people: around 45,000 driving exams nationwide have had to be suspended, according to Francisco Camarillo of the CSIF, one of the labor unions supporting the strike. In Valencia alone, around 4,000 tests have been affected, says Asextra.

Driving examiners also say their workload is too heavy. “We have to supervise up to 13 tests a day, which is just not feasible: 12 should be the limit,” says Jiménez, who accuses the DGT of not doing enough to address the problem.

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“We’re not asking them to lower the number to seven, as in the Netherlands, for example,” says the CSIF. “It just doesn’t make sense for the DGT to tell drivers they should take a rest every two hours, but our members have to spend all day in the car.” 

Examiners also want a pay rise – “we haven’t had one for 10 years” – along with guarantees that the service is not going to be privatized.

No solution seems in sight for the moment. The DGT says the Interministerial Executive Remuneration Commission is responsible. It meets every Monday and has been successful in unblocking negotiations. The country’s almost 700 driving test examiners are hoping that it can find a solution.

Around 400,000 people pass their driving test each year, with a similar number failing. “The number of people failing has increased significantly with the crisis. People are trying to take their test after the minimum number of classes,” says Jiménez.

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