TORONTO - Southern Ontario drivers who scrambled to accommodate a Florida law that's on the verge of being revised can be compensated for their trouble, the regional chapter of the Canadian Automobile Association said Friday.
Recent changes in Florida legislation required all foreign drivers, including Canadians, to acquire an international driving permit in order to operate a vehicle in the Sunshine State.
The rule went into effect quietly on Jan. 1 but only became widely known earlier this week, prompting a flurry of applicants for the special permit.
Authorities in Florida, however, have since announced that they will be modifying the law to accommodate Canadian drivers.
The South Central Ontario chapter of the CAA has responded by offering a full refund for anyone who purchased an international driving permit and passport photos on Feb. 13 or 14. Customers have 30 days in which to claim their money.
The CAA chapter, however, did not discourage future travellers from acquiring the permit, which translates existing licence information into 10 languages and is meant to supplement a person's ordinary license from home.
Officials in Florida have said they are reviewing the current law and have not yet determined how they will accommodate Canadian drivers.
"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 of the state's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
She also said officials are aware that Canadian licences are issued in both English and French and haven't determined how they will redraft the law to take that into account.
The South Central Ontario CAA urged would-be snowbirds to keep the rules in mind while the state's review is taking place.
While enforcement of this new law in Florida may not take place at least for now, we continue to recommend for those Canadians travelling to Florida in the next few days, to consider obtaining an IDP," the chapter said in a statement.
"For those who will not be travelling for some days, and those already in Florida, we advise to wait for further developments."
Kristine Simpson, a spokeswoman with the CAA national office, said the refund policy is not a nationwide initiative. Such a decision is made individually by the CAA's nine chapters across the country, she said, adding she is not aware of any other subsidiaries who have opted to offer money back.
The CAA praised the state of Florida for urging its police officers to defer enforcing the law while it's being reviewed.
" CAA is grateful that the state of Florida has responded to efforts by CAA and thousands of concerned Canadians to review this issue," the organization said in a statement.
Police are not the only ones being urged to turn a blind eye to Canadians driving without the technical paperwork. The Insurance Bureau of Canada issued a plea for insurers not to deny coverage to those who don't have the international driving permit.
One insurer, Aviva Canada, plans to heed that advice.
"Aviva would not use a lack of an international driver's permit in Florida as a basis to deny a claim, so all of our customers are fine," said spokesman Glenn Cooper.
Florida's official state tourism marketing corporation has identified Canada as its top international market. Visit Florida said 3.1 million Canadians travelled to the state in 2010.
As word of the change spread earlier this week, many expressed astonishment at the lack of publicity around the new rules. Even the CAA said it only learned of the change when an American Automobile Association worker in Florida called to discuss the changes.
The IDP costs $25 and can be obtained through CAA offices. Canadians currently in Florida can apply for one through the mail.