Florida authorities are looking to exempt English-language licences from the new law, but it won’t be in time for March break.
*** note *** please read latest update further down in article
This just in from the department of red tape you didn’t know existed: Canadians are now required by law to have an international driving permit in addition to their regular licences when driving in Florida.
The state law quietly came into effect on Jan. 1, but no one in the tourism industry really noticed until a British journalist called this week.
“We realize that tourists will be an unintended side effect of this new law,” said Kathy Torian of Visit Florida, who just got the heads-up from “the folks” at the state highway department. “We’re trying to help spread the word to the tourism community around the world as well as our own industry in Florida.”
Millions of international visitors drive in Florida each year, and state legislators thought the international driving permit — a standardized document that translates the licence details into 10 different languages — would help law officers interpret foreign licences.
The new law applies to any non-resident, including all those Canadians getting ready for March break.
The Canadian Automobile Association, while recommending Florida-bound travellers obtain a permit, is urging the state to modify or waive the law for Canadians, who make up Florida’s top international tourism market. (More than three million Canucks visited last year.)
“It’s unclear at this point what the enforcement regime will be and whether the Florida authorities might reconsider this for Canadians,” said CAA spokesman Ian Jack. “For the time being, given that it is the law, you are better safe than sorry.”
The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles confirmed it is looking to “clarify the law” so that English-language licences would be acceptable.
The next legislative session begins in March, and the soonest any change might happen would be July 1, said spokeswoman Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, adding, “We love our Canadians.”
Until the law is clarified, Canadian drivers found without the permit would technically be considered “driving without a valid licence,” she said.
“Theoretically you could be arrested,” she explained. “Law enforcement officers use discretion, and if they pull you over because the tail light is out, most of them, as long as you conduct yourself appropriately and everything, probably would not choose to be super tough on you. But I can’t speak for that, because there are 400 law enforcement agencies in Florida.”
Georgetown resident Dianne Kayess, who plans to vacation in Orlando this March, learned of the law online.
“I’m not going down there to go to jail,” she said, noting she and her husband will likely get the permits, just to be safe.
“My biggest concern is if we didn’t have one and we were in an accident or got a speeding ticket or whatever, and the insurance company says, ‘You were driving without a licence. We’re not going to cover the damage of your car,’ ” she said.
Canadians can pick up an IDP at a local CAA office for $25, plus the cost of passport photos. It’s valid for one year.
Snowbirds already nestled in the sunshine state for the season must apply by mail, as the permits can only be issued in Canada.
The new law applies to those renting cars as well, but Olsen-Doolan said she was unclear whether agencies would ask for the permit.
The car rental industry itself is confused. At an Alamo outlet in Miami, the clerk hadn’t heard of the law. Marlene Aziz, manager at Best Rate Car Rental in Kissimmee, also didn’t know about it. “We ask about your licence and your passport, that’s it,” she said.