Sunday, February 17, 2013

The International Driving Permit Fiasco

This blog entry isn't quite Interstate 275 related, but I came across a situation involving our Canadian snowbirds which I was going to place on my other blog, The Edward Ringwald Blog, but I feel it merits attention right here on the Interstate 275 Blog.

As reported by ABC Action News (WFTS-TV, the ABC affiliate here in Tampa), a law that quietly went into effect on 1 January 2013 requires an English translation of driver licenses from other countries, including our bilingual English and French speaking neighbor to the north, Canada.  The purpose of the law was to make things easier for the Florida Highway Patrol as well as county and city law enforcement agencies (sheriff and police) to read and interpret driver licenses from other countries, especially countries where English is not the official language.

In other words, people that live outside the United States - including our Canadian snowbirds - were being required to carry a second driving related document when operating a motor vehicle.  That document is called an International Driving Permit, which is basically a translation of your driver license into so many languages so that it can be understood by local law enforcement in order to overcome language barriers.

Unfortunately, this new law - which was publicized too quietly - caused a major uproar among Florida's Canadian snowbirds who make their winter home right here in the Sunshine State.  Even though Canadian provincial driver licences are in English (with the exception of bilingual Quebec, where their driver licences are in both English and French) and meet the current requirements of Florida law, Canadians were become increasingly concerned of being arrested and incarcerated for the mere act of driving on a foreign driver license.

But every story has a happy ending, however.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles ended up reversing its stance on requiring that motorists that hold a foreign driver license - including Canadian driver licences - by issuing this statement regarding the possession of an International Driving Permit by persons that hold a non-U.S. driver license.  In that statement the changed law - codified in Section 322.04 of the Florida Statutes - may be in violation of a 1949 treaty called the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, of which the United States is a signatory to the treaty.

After all, the individual fifty states - including Florida - do not have any matters regarding international treaties, as that power (the power to make treaties) is exclusively reserved of the United States Government per the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  In other words, the State of Florida has no business meddling in international affairs.

An International Driving Permit is a document that allows the holder of the permit to operate a motor vehicle in a country where it is either recommended or required.  The permit is actually a translation of the holder's native driver license (such as a Florida Driver License) into multiple languages that can be understood by law enforcement officials in the country where the holder is traveling.

It is important to note that an International Driving Permit is not valid by itself, especially in the country where the permit was issued.  An International Driving Permit is kept together with the permit holder's regular driver license and is considered an extension of the driver license and is used when the license holder is out of his or her country of residence.

The provisions of an International Driving Permit were written into the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.  The permit is good for one year from the date of issue.  Today, the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic superseded the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, incorporating the 1949 convention's provisions on International Driving Permits into the 1968 convention.

For us Tampa/St. Petersburg residents, you're probably now wondering, when do I need to have an International Driving Permit?  Here are a couple of items you need to know:

If I am going outside of the United States, will I need an International Driving Permit?

It all depends.

If you are headed across the border to Canada or Mexico, your Florida Driver License will do just fine.  If you are headed south of Mexico (such as a Pan American journey south through Central America to South America), then I would recommend getting an International Driving Permit.

Now if you are headed to Europe or anywhere else, then you definitely want to obtain an International Driving Permit.  Some countries may say it's OK to drive on your Florida Driver License, but obtaining an International Driving Permit is better just to be on the safe side.  As an example, Germany, Austria and Slovenia require that you have an International Driving Permit along with your regular driver license if you are driving in these countries.

The best way to check driving regulations for individual countries is the individual country pages over at the U.S. State Department's international travel website.  Understand what the country you are headed to requires before you set out.

Where do I obtain an International Driving Permit if I am a U.S. citizen?

The U.S. State Department has authorized two entities to issue an International Driving Permit:

American Automobile Association (AAA)
National Automobile Club (NAC)

These are the only two entities in the United States to issue an International Driving Permit to a U.S. citizen in possession of a valid state driver license.  However, the State Department at one time warned of unauthorized outlets claiming to be an authorized issuers of an International Driving Permit, as the unauthorized outlets are sometimes fraudulent.

By the way, you do not have to be a member of either organization to apply for and receive an International Driving Permit.  The cost is less than $20.00 and the permit is valid for one year from the date of issuance.  Just be sure to bring two passport-size photos and make sure that you have enough validity on your regular driver license.

And by the way, don't forget to take your passport with you when you travel - after all, you need it to enter a foreign country!  The International Driving Permit, together with your regular driver license, lets you operate a motor vehicle in a foreign country while there.

How will the International Driving Permit fiasco be resolved as far as the State of Florida is concerned?

As these provisions have been written into the Florida Statutes, it will have to take an act of the Florida Legislature to change what was enacted.  Hopefully, our legislators in Tallahassee will more than likely fix what went wrong in the upcoming 2013 legislative session.  Happily, according to the ABC Action News article mentioned earlier the Florida Highway Patrol won't be enforcing the International Driving Permit required provisions for the time being.

So don't worry, Canadian Snowbirds!  The Sunshine State is open for business and we welcome you to our great state!

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