TORONTO -- State officials in Florida scrambled Thursday to reassure anxious Canadians they don't need to worry about new rules requiring them to have an international driving permit to motor around the Sunshine State.
Changes are in the works to legislation requiring all visitors with foreign licences to have an international permit issued by their country of residence in addition to a valid licence from home, a spokeswoman with Florida's department of highway safety and motor vehicles said Thursday.
"I'm not sure exactly how we're going to end up working it, but we're going to determine how to modify it to accommodate the concerns of Canadians and others," said Kirsten Olsen-Doolan.
"The main issue is public safety, not to give anybody a hard time or make it difficult to come visit."
The quiet implementation of the regulations on Jan. 1 -- which apply to any vehicle, including rentals -- resulted in many Canadians being caught off guard.
"I had no idea; we've been coming down here for years and never had a problem," said David Whitford, a Norwich, Ont., resident currently in Cape San Blas, Fla., who realized he'd technically been driving around illegally for the past few weeks.
"I can't see what the problem is... for whatever reason they've decided that we're being made to feel a little unwelcome here."
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said the law was passed so police are not faced with foreign licence documents in languages they can't understand.
An IDP translates existing driver licence information into 10 languages and is valid for one year. It is not a substitute for a valid driver's licence but rather, accompanies one.
Florida officials have received a flood of concerns from not only Canadians, but residents of other English speaking countries such as the United Kingdom, said Olsen-Doolan.
"Oh my goodness, oh yes," she said in an interview Thursday. "Everybody has called about this."
The Canadian Automobile Association -- which issues international driving permits -- called on Florida to amend the law to exempt Canadians.
"No North American jurisdiction has ever asked for an IDP before from another North American jurisdiction. This is a first," CAA spokesman Ian Jack told The Canadian Press.
"They've subsequently told us that they've recognized that it was a mistake to include Canada and that they will be moving to exempt Canada, but on the other hand, because it's legislation and their legislature doesn't sit till mid-March, it's going to take some time for that to happen."
While it has not had reports of Canadians being censured for driving without an IDP in the state to date, the CAA was still suggesting Canuck drivers obtain an international permit until the law is clarified.
The IDP costs $25 and can be obtained through CAA offices. Canadians currently in Florida can apply for one through the mail.
-- The Canadian Press