Florida’s New Foreign Drivers Law Causing Uncertainty for International Visitors

Tourists and Floridians have long had a love-hate relationship of sorts. Visitors clog our beaches, drive up the rates on hotels and are mostly to blame for long lines at Disney World. They also pump a lot of money into local economies, powering a number of the industries in which Sunshine State residents are employed. As a result, local lawmakers and officials generally seek to roll out the welcome mat for the millions of annual visitors to our sun-drenched beaches and majestic shores. Generally.

The state legislature is wiping the egg of its face after it was revealed last week that a confusing new law that went into effect on New Year’s Day makes it more difficult of foreign visitors to drive in Florida and file insurance claims in the event they are involved in a car accident.

The law (Section 322.04, Florida Statutes) makes it illegal for foreign residents to drive a car in Florida without having an international driver’s permit issued by their home nation. The IDP is a special permit that lets motorists drive internationally, when accompanied by a valid driver’s license from their home country. The measure was apparently intended to ensure that all foreign motorists held documentation already translated into English, easing any burden on local traffic cops.

The problem is that many frequent visitors – including those from English speaking countries who already have an English-language license, just not the specific permit required under the law – are simply not aware of the new rules.

Nor, it seems, were many state leaders. “We will work with the legislature to amend the law this year so it does not burden international visitors to our state, who make up an important part of our tourism industry,” a media representative for Gov. Rick Scott told Reuters on Feb. 19. Meanwhile Florida Highway Patrol has said that it won’t enforce that law and is urging local law enforcement agencies to follow suit.

The Canadian Automobile Association, which brought the matter to light earlier this month, is cautioning those visiting sunny Florida from the Great White North that car insurance companies may be less understanding. “CAA is working with Florida officials to have the law amended,” the organization wrote on its website. “In the meantime, there is some uncertainty on how insurance companies and Florida car rental agencies will interpret the law.”

About 3.6 million Canadian tourists visited the state last year. “[A]t least 15,000 Canadians have been scrambling within the past few days to get an International Driving Permit for scheduled trips to Florida, creating mid-winter angst on both sides of the border,” according to The Ledger’s Lloyd Dunkelberger.

The foreign driver law upheaval is just one example of how complicated traffic laws can be in Florida. Canadians and other international visitors aren’t the only drivers who should be well aware of their rights and responsibilities to other motorists before hitting the road.

If you were injured in a car accident, the experienced South Florida auto accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach, and our offices are conveniently located in Ft. Lauderdale. Call 800-747-3733 for a free consultation.

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