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Florida hurries to scrap law requiring permits for foreign drivers

Cars run on the I-95 highway in Miami, May 15, 2007. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Cars run on the I-95 highway in Miami, May 15, 2007. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Embarrassed Florida legislators, worried about losing millions of dollars in tourism revenue from Canadian visitors, are hurrying to scrap a new state law requiring visitors from other countries to get international driving permits.

"The intentions were righteous, but the unintended consequences were greater than anyone thought they would be," said Representative Daniel Davis, who sponsored the effort to repeal the proposal.

The law, in effect since January 1, has turned thousands of unwitting foreign tourists into illegal drivers.

Officials said the aim of the law was intended to ensure all drivers in Florida held a license translated into English, but many frequent visitors from Canada, England and other English-speaking countries have visited the state without realizing they needed the documentation.

International driving permits are translated into 10 languages, allowing police to verify foreign driving licenses.

The new law touched off a backlash in Canada, which accounts for about 3.6 million Florida tourists every year.

The Canadian Automobile Association warned its members that insurers may not pay claims for any accident they have while driving without the permit in Florida.

Visitors from Britain, which sends 1.3 million tourists to Florida annually, were also required to get the one-year special driving permit under the soon-to-be-nullified law, even though their licenses were already written in English.

The state Senate Transportation Committee gave routine preliminary approval on Tuesday to a bill repealing the measure.

It will get a final vote next Wednesday and will be sent to Governor Rick Scott, who has indicated he supported scrapping the law.

The Florida House voted 116-0 last week to repeal it.

Davis, a Republican from Jacksonville, said drivers whose licenses are not in English will not need international permits once the law is repealed.

Besides offending visitors from important tourism markets, a legislative staff analysis said the current law may be unconstitutional under provisions of a 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, which the United States signed.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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