UPDATED Feb. 14, 4:20 p.m.
Maritimers with upcoming plans to visit the sunshine state weren’t the only ones caught off guard by news they may require an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) to drive in Florida.
CAA Atlantic spokesman Gary Howard said on Feb. 14 that both CAA and their American counterpart AAA were also taken aback.
“This came to light for most organizations yesterday and immediately we reached out to our counterparts in the U.S., at AAA. They also just found out about it,” Howard said in a Feb. 14 interview.
“We were then talking with businesses like Hertz-Rent-a-Car and others in Florida, and they didn’t know about it.”
The state law came into effect Jan. 1, with apparently little fanfare or publicity. It requires all non U.S. residents to carry an IDP in addition to a valid license while driving their own vehicle or a rental vehicle in Florida.
Late in the day on Feb. 14, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued a statement saying that changes to their law requiring all non U.S. citizens to have an International Driving Permit may violate the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.
The Florida Highway Patrol said it will defer enforcement until officials determine if they’re in violation of the treaty. No timeline was given.
In an email, the CAA said it is grateful the state has responded to pressure from the association and thousands of concerned Canadians, but added they are still seeking clarity from the state on whether this applies to all 400 law enforcement agencies in Florida.
"Based on how rapidly the situation is evolving, we continue to recommend for those Canadians travelling to Florida in the next few days, you should consider obtaining an IDP," reads a statement on the CAA Atlantic website.
"For those who will not be travelling for some days, and those already in Florida, we advise you to wait for developments."
While CAA Atlantic will provide refunds to anyone who wants to return a recently purchased IDP, the organization is counselling against it at this time due to the lack of clarity that continues to surround this issue.
Some local travellers planning trips to Florida weren't taking any chances.
Dartmouth resident Terry MacDonald and his wife Margot are going to Florida with their children over the March break. Despite the announcement that the Florida Highway Patrol will defer enforcement for the time being, MacDonald isn't taking any chances.
He said with no clear timeline for when the issue will be permanently resolved, he was concerned about potential problems that could arise if he travelled without an IDP. He suspects he's not alone.
"There's going to be an influx of people going to CAA to get these cards made up," MacDonald said. "It's better to be safe than sorry... I'm taking my family with me so getting this (IDP) is a priority for me."
On Feb. 14, the lack of publicity around the law surprised travellers and businesses alike.
“For a state that relies on tourism, it’s a little interesting that they took this route,” Howard said.
While an IDP requirement isn’t unusual for people travelling within foreign countries, Howard said lumping Canadians in with people from countries where English is not likely to appear on drivers’ licenses is odd.
“I’m pretty sure you can read a Nova Scotia driver’s license in Florida,” he said.
Florida is a top vacation destination for Canadians, with close to four million visiting the state every year. The uncertainty is likely to cause concern to thousands of Maritimers preparing to jet off to Florida for March Break in a few weeks.
Howard said both CAA and AAA are in discussions with the State of Florida to see if they can work out an exemption for Canadians.
CAA is the only body in Canada authorized to issue IDPs. Howard said it’s a straightforward process that requires filling out an application form and bringing it or sending it in to your nearest CAA office along with two date stamped passport photos.
The forms can be found at www.atlantic.caa.ca. An IDP costs $25.
While the standard turnaround time to receive an IDP is a few business days, Howard expects things to be unusually busy during this peak travel period.
“We will be pulling resources away from other things and trying to make this go as quickly as possible, and we will be giving priority to people travelling sooner rather than later,” he said.
If the law sticks, it will make Florida the only U.S. state that requires Canadians to have an IDP.
About the International Driver's Permit (From CAA South Central Ontario):
•The IDP must be issued at a CAA Store in Canada and cannot be obtained or renewed elsewhere
•The IDP is valid for one year from the date of issue OR until your Canadian provincial driver's license expires, whichever comes first
•Your valid Canadian provincial driver's license must accompany the IDP at all times
•An IDP cannot be post-dated, extended or renewed. A new IDP application form must be completed each time a new IDP is required