Canadian drivers visiting the Sunshine State will not require a special driving permit as initially thought, despite a new state law that quietly went into effect on New Year’s Day.

In a statement released by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Thursday afternoon, the agency announced that a new law requiring visitors from outside the United States to have an International Driving Permit in order to drive in the state may violate international law.

“It has come to the department’s attention that this requirement may violate the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic,” the release states.

“Therefore, the Florida Highway Patrol will defer enforcement of violations of the amended statutory section until a final determination of the alignment of the amendment with the treaty can be made.”

With March break just weeks away, CAA was alerting motorists about the change as it lobbies Florida state lawmakers to exclude Canadians from the rule, which applies to all non-U.S. residents. It is estimated that millions of Canadians visit Florida each year.

Florida passed the law so that its law enforcement officials would not encounter driver’s licence documents in languages they could not read, according to CAA spokesman Ian Jack.

“They recognize they made a mistake in this law," he said. "What it was intended to do was to deal with non-English language licenses that their law enforcement officials might have difficulty deciphering … but they forgot to write an exemption for English-speaking people into the law.”

Jack said many people were caught off guard by the rule because there hasn’t been much publicity or awareness about it.

CAA learned of the law two days ago, and several car rental companies were not aware of it, he said.

Despite its position on the law, CAA is urging Canadians to acquire an IDP if they plan to drive in Florida, be it in their own vehicle or a rental vehicle, because they may be ticketed if they are caught driving without the document.

“Our default position for this is better safe than sorry,” Jack said.

CAA flooded with applications

Coverage of the new law sparked a frenzy.

After the law was publicized in Canada on Thursday, CAA's South Central Ontario division processed more than 900 permit applications by 1 p.m.

CAA was so overwhelmed by the rush of applications that it asked people to wait to file one if they don't need a permit right away.

At CAA's East Mall location in Etobicoke, permit-seekers waited in line for two hours. The usual processing time is 10 to 15 minutes.

An IDP is a special driver’s licence that allows licensed motorists to drive in other countries without additional road tests or applications, and is proof that the holder possesses a valid licence in his or her home country, according to the Canadian government.

The IDP, which is translated into multiple languages, is valid for one year and it must be accompanied by a valid driver’s licence.

The document is valid in all countries that have signed the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic and is also recognized in many other countries.

Motorists can obtain an IDP at any CAA office for $25 or by downloading a form and sending it to the organization. CAA is the only organization in Canada that is authorized to issue the document.

With files from CP24 reporter Cristina Tenaglia

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