Credits: PETER GILBERT/QMI AGENCY
Canadians technically now need an international driving permit to get behind the wheel in Florida, but police assure they won't be going after snowbirds from north of the border.
Legislators in the Sunshine State passed a law that requires non-U.S. motorists to have an international permit in addition to their regular driver's licence as of Jan. 1, said Ian Jack, spokesman for the Canadian
Automobile Association (CAA).
The Florida Department of Highway Safety said it will ask lawmakers to clarify the rules to allow drivers with English-language licences to operate a vehicle in the state without the permit.
"The intent of the change in Florida law regarding the International Driving Permit was to aid law enforcement in Florida when interacting with drivers holding a licence in a foreign language," Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said in a statement.
Unfortunately it will likely take until the summer to close the loophole, as the next legislative session isn't until March. So, until then, the permit will technically, by law, be required for the Canadian spring breakers and snowbirds who head south over the winter months.
"At CAA, we're reluctantly recommending to be better safe than sorry," Jack said.
Officials in Florida are also advising Canadians to get the permit until the law is clarified, although Jack said he was told police won't be actively enforcing the law for foreign-licenced motorists. But, at the end of the day, the decision is at the discretion of officers there and the courts.
Employees from Enterprise and Hertz car rentals in Clearwater, Fla., however, said Thursday they hadn't heard of the new requirement and Canadians can rent vehicles with just their regular driver's licence.
The out-of-the-blue change has left some Canadian snowbirds scratching their heads.
"Realistically, if they don't want our money, that's fine. We'll go somewhere else," veteran Russell Daikens, of New Hamburg, Ont., said from his winter home in St. Petersburg, Fla.
He said he doesn't plan on getting the permit, calling it a "cash grab."
An international driving permit is printed in 10 languages, is valid for one-year and allows the holder to operate a vehicle without further tests or applications in more than 150 countries. Drivers can get the permit at any CAA office.
Florida is a destination for more tourists from Canada than from any other country besides the U.S.
In 2011, about 3.3 million Canadians travelled to the Sunshine State, according to Visit Florida Research.