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A recent article in The Independent, almost hidden away amidst travel articles, had some alarming news for anyone planning to go to Florida for a holiday this year and drive. And to be honest, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office weren’t aware of it, and it took The Independent to tell them.
Normally, or should I say pre-2013, British drivers in Florida would need to carry their standard British photocard licence with the green counterpart - as they would have to throughout the rest of the USA, but now Florida have tightened up their motoring rules and have now made it compulsory for overseas visitors to not only carry a driving licence from their own country but an International Driving Permit (IDP) too.
It doesn’t take much for the Highway Patrol Officers to pull a driver over, and if you are pulled over or are involved in an accident, the penalties for breaking this new law are, to put it mildly, a bit harsh. According to a spokeswoman for the
Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, police have two choices as to what to do when they come across a British motorist driving ‘illegally’: “Arresting the driver and taking him/her to jail, or giving the driver a citation with a mandatory court appearance.” And as pleasant a return trip to Florida would sound, it’s a little expensive for just a court appearance.Not many British motorists both getting the IDP because most holiday and business trips go to places that don’t need one – and it only costs £5.50 by post from the AA or the RAC by post; although there are 88 branches of the Post Office in the UK that sell them in person – ONLY 88!
In a year, around 1,000,000 UK citizens visit Florida – not all of them driving admittedly – but this law seems to have thrown the whole thing into confusion in a right-hand / left-hand scenario. Rosie Sanderson, who runs the AA's International Division, said: “It has thrown the fly-drive market into chaos, with a lot of conflicting advice”.
Look at these contradicting firms.
Hertz, the leading rental firm, have said that its Florida offices would insist on an IDP as well as a national licence, and said: “It is the responsibility of the driver to obtain a permit” and this was also stipulated by Avis.
But the UK's leading car-broker, Holiday Autos, said that its US supplier, Alamo, would not insist upon an IDP. The permit would be needed “only if the full licence held by the driver/hirer was not in English”.
In the short-tem (and half-term) the Florida authorities have said that the new legislation would not be enforced, but in the long term……
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We have raised changes to Florida driving laws with the Florida authorities. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has advised us that they are urgently looking to amend the law for those countries who issue driving licences in English.”