A new law went into effect January 1 that has needlessly upset plenty of Canadians who choose to winter in Florida. It's a law that says all visitors with foreign licenses must have an internation driver's permit (IDP)which costs $25, issued by their own country of residence as well as a valid license from home.
In other words, the state of Florida would no longer honor Canadian driver's licenses by themselves; they had to be accompanied by a current IDP. What about Canadians who are already in Florida? What if there's an accident?
It's created a lot of confusion. Many Canadians were caught off-guard by the regulations which also apply to any vehicle, including car and RV rentals. Word of the new law spread earlier this week and the Canadian Automobile Association reportedly issued 3,500 IDPs just on Wednesday and Thursday. But now, finally, Florida is admitting its mistake.
Why would Florida have required an IDP? Doesn't Florida know how important Canada's snowbirds are to the state's economy?
According to VisitFlorida, the state office that promotes tourism, of 9.3 million foreign visitors to Florida in 2011, 3.3 million came from Canada. And while the average U.S. tourist here stays five nights, the average Canadian stayed 18. In 2011 tourism (from U.S. tourists and those living abroad) brought in $4 billion in sales taxes.
The IDP requirement was never intended for Canadians. It was intended for visitors from countries unknown to ensure compliance with U.S. traffic laws and may also be supported by the Dept. of Homeland Security. But the law did not exclude Canadians from the requirement and that's what caused so much confusion.
The Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has since issued a statement stating that it has learned that IDP requirement may violate the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, an international treay to which the U.S. is a signatory, and such treaties pre-empt state laws that may conflict with them.
It's official. Florida apologizes. Florida's Highway Patrol will not enforce the IDP requirement.
Even if the IDP requirement is later deemed valid, the Canadian Automobile Association has asked Florida to amend the law to exempt Canadians. Let's hope Florida obliges immediately.
Let's hope the CAA reimburses those folks and anyone else traveling only between Canada and the U.S. who reacted to the hysteria and bought an IDP. They should be able to get their money back if they want.