Foreign visitors can drive in Florida with their licenses from home — for now

A new law requiring foreign visitors to have international driving permits to drive in Florida will not be enforced because it violates an international treaty, highway safety officials said Friday.

During the 2012 legislative session, the Florida Legislature amended the law, requiring foreign visitors to have an international driving permit — usually priced $15-$25 — to drive lawfully in Florida. Foreign drivers without the permit translating their license information into English and nine other languages could have been arrested for driving without a license.

Though the law went into effect Jan. 1, 2013, it did not get widespread attention until foreign journalists started asking questions earlier this week. The story quickly spread in Canada, prompting worried calls and lines at some offices of the Canadian Automobile Association. “Honestly, some days I just shake my head at the insanity around us,” wrote Jim Byers, the Toronto Star’s travel editor, on his blog. “For a state so dependent on tourism, this is unbelievably stupid.”

Late Thursday, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said the requirement may violate the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic. International treaties sign by the U.S. take precedence over state laws, the department said, and ruled that the Florida Highway Patrol would hold off enforcing violations until the law was clarified, according to a statement.

Visit Florida was concerned that the law could have impacted visitors and deterred tourists, said spokeswoman Kathy Torian. In 2011, about 12.6 million foreigners visited Florida, according to the agency. “We’re just relieved that this was acted on so quickly as it came to the attention of state officials,” Torian said. “So visitors, especially from the U.K. and Canada, as they come on their spring breaks next week, will have no concerns as far as this is related.”

Nicki Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the organization has fielded about 100 calls and the same number of emails since the law was publicized. She found out about it from a Canadian reporter Wednesday night.

“Clearly we would have challenged it; we would have talked to the legislators; we would have done what we needed to do to make the provisions more acceptable to our visitors,” she said. “You pass something like this, and a million dollars isn’t going to resolve the kinds of issues that were created in 24 hours yesterday, the unbelievable negative attention on the state of Florida in Canada.”

Last year, more than 950,000 Canadians visited Broward and spent nearly a billion dollars, Grossman said. In 2011, the last full year for which figures are available, 3.3 million people visited the state from Canada, Florida’s top international market. Of the nearly 7 million foreign visitors who came to Miami-Dade in 2011, 500,000 were from Canada.

“You can’t mess with Canada,” Grossman said.

Though the new law also would have affected car rentals, rental car companies may not have even been aware the law had changed six weeks ago.

Hertz, for example, has not been requiring foreign renters to have international driving permits, said spokeswoman Paula Rivera. So the suspension makes no difference.

“It didn’t have an effect upon us,” she said Friday.

Visitors who drive in Florida still must have a valid license from another U.S. state or territory or from their country of residence.

Harry Oberman, a retired telecommunications professional from Quebec who spends much of the winter in South Florida, said he worries that the law might still be enforced as long as it’s on the books. It’s a concern being expressed by fellow Canadians, he said in an interview from Hallandale Beach. A news story from a publication in Canada alerted him to the law this week.

“I was worried, the truth be said,” Oberman said. “Because I’m a very lawful guy.”

Read more Top Stories stories from the Miami Herald

FIFA  <span class="bold">World</span> <span class="bold">Cup</span> Trophy after its arrival at  <span class="bold">Miami</span> International Airport on April 15, 2014.

    World Cup

    Miami will be World Cup crossroads

    With air connections to 10 of the 12 Brazilian World Cup host cities, Miami will be promoting itself as a gateway to soccer action.

ALTERNATIVE CROP OF XLAT301 - FILE - This undated file photo of Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez is seen in an unknown location. Marquez died Thursday April 17, 2014 at his home in Mexico City. Garcia Marquez's magical realist novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality.

    Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87

    Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez crafted intoxicating fiction from the fatalism, fantasy, cruelty and heroics of the world that set his mind churning as a child growing up on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

  • Miami Herald town hall focuses on protecting children

    A month after it began publishing the Innocents Lost series of investigative articles, the Miami Herald on Thursday is hosting a town hall meeting to discuss Florida’s failure to protect kids — and what might be done about it.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category