Florida International Drivers Permit Law Causes Stir

Our Dispatch Center was recently besieged with calls from upset Canadian citizens seeking information on how to obtain an “International Drivers License.”  This rush was apparently was spurred by letters sent to the Canadians by their government urging them to apply for these licenses immediately based upon a new Florida law requiring all non U.S. residents to carry this new document when driving.  The situation was made worse by the fact that no one in our Dispatch was clear about what the frantic Canadians were talking about.

There is no such thing as an “International Drivers License.”  The document in question is an International Driving Permit (IDP) that translates a person’s valid drivers license into the language of the country the person is visiting.  International Drivers Permits do not authorize a person to drive a motor vehicle in any country.  They only provide a translation of the valid drivers license a person already possesses.

The U.S. Department of State has authorized the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) to issue IDP’s in the United States.  For U.S. citizens, an International Drivers Permit can be obtained through AAA at the following link:

AAA/International Drivers Permit

Our Canadian visitors and part-time residents can access IDP information here:

CAA/International Drivers Permit

The current IDP resembles a passport, bears a photo and physical descriptors of the driver, and gives translations of the valid drivers license in multiple foreign languages.  Their valid drivers license must accompany the IDP for a person to legally drive in another country.  No IDP is necessary in the U.S. if their originating country prints the drivers license in English.

The debate about the requirement for IDP’s became heated this week and the Florida Division of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued this statement on 2/14/2013:

“During the 2012 legislative session, the Florida Legislature amended section 322.04, Florida Statutes, to require visitors from outside the United States to have an International Driving Permit in order to drive lawfully in Florida. This change took effect Jan. 1, 2013.

“It has come to the Department’s attention that this requirement may violate the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949), an international treaty to which the United States is a signatory. Treaties to which the United States is a party preempt state laws in conflict with them.

“Therefore, the Florida Highway Patrol will defer enforcement of violations of the amended statutory section until a final determination of the alignment of the amendment with the treaty can be made. Non-resident visitors to Florida who wish to drive while here will be required to have in their immediate possession a valid driver license issued in his or her name from another state or territory of the U.S. or from their country of residence. However, the FHP will not take enforcement action based solely on the lack of an International Driving Permit.”

I have fielded officer complaints over the years from foreign visitors arguing with me about their “International Drivers License” being valid and the officer in question was wrong to ask for their (fill in the country) home drivers license.  One man from India screamed at me that the officer and our whole department was mistaken about IDP’s and demanded an apology.  My officer had only issued him a written traffic warning.

Tourism being an important part of the Florida economy, we try to resolve these conflicts with patience and a good base of information.  In short, drivers of all nations still need to carry their valid drivers licenses to drive in the Sunshine State.


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