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Florida lawmakers apologize to Canada over English-language driver's license law

Traffic on the highway heading out of Miami at Opa Locka Boulevard, Florida, United States of America
Traffic on the highway heading out of Miami at Opa Locka Boulevard, Florida, United States of AmericaTim Graham / Tim Graham

The Canadian Automobile Association is warning their members to take special precautions when traveling internationally — to Florida.

That's because the Sunshine State last year passed a largely unnoticed law that requires foreign drivers to own largely-unused "international driver's permits" from their home country.

The legislation, which went into effect January 1, was intended to make sure all Florida drivers held a license translated into English.

But it also meant scores of snowbirds flew down from the Great White North in 2013 not knowing they were breaking the law. 

Florida lawmakers are apologizing to Canadians, British and other English-speaking countries that have been unintentionally targeted as a result of the law, and Florida's Highway Patrol has suspended its enforcement.

Still, there are questions about the impact on car rentals and insurance coverage for foreigners driving in the state. The state's tourism website, Visit Florida, is urging visitors to consult with an "in-country travel professional for guidance."

That's why the CAA, Canada's version of AAA, has on the homepage of its website guidelines for the new law and FAQ on how to obtain an international driver's license, which costs $25.

"Until the law is changed, we continue to recommend Canadians traveling to Florida should consider obtaining an IDP," the site reads.

That change could come soon, as state officials are quickly realizing some of the unwanted consequences of the bill.

"We will work with the legislature to amend the law this year so it does not burden international visitors to our state, who make up an important part of our tourism industry," said John Tupps, deputy press secretary for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, on Tuesday.

Florida state Rep. Ben Albritton, a Republican, introduced the bill with the intention of making things easier on Motor Vehicle employees who regularly deal with identification from foreign lands.

"This one I just missed. I want to tell the people in Canada I am sorry," Albritton told the Tampa Bay Times. "If I messed something up, I am man enough to fix it."

Canada topped all other countries in travel to Florida in 2011 with more than 3 million visitors there. Another English speaking country, the United Kingdom, ranks third on the list with 1.3 million visitors.

Tourism spending in the state totaled $67.2 billion in 2011.

It is unclear when the law will be officially amended.