Rest of the world has foreign driver’s licences figured out, why hasn’t BC?


​BC’s lack of clarification for foreign drivers is definitely confusing. For one, all the Motor Vehicle Act requires is that a foreign driver carries a valid driver’s licence, even if the document is in a different language and police officers are unable to read them. This has caused countless frustrations particularly for visitors to BC who carry valid foreign driver’s licences, but receive traffic tickets for driving without a licence anyways because police officers are trying to be cautious. 

This should never have been a problem. 
Most developed countries around the world (and even other provinces in Canada) have already figured it out. They all use a little slip of paper called an International Driving Permit, which is a translated document to be carried with a foreign driver’s licence allowing local law enforcement to understand the driving privileges of the holder of a foreign licence. 


​But for some reason, as I explained in a previous blog post, BC’s Motor Vehicle Act does not contain a similar requirement, leaving the current state of affairs a wild west where police officers are simply asked to use their best judgement. 

In Ontario, the province’s Highway Traffic Act’s s. 34 stipulates that non-residents of other countries or states are exempt from provincial driver’s licensing requirements if they are “at least sixteen years of age and is the holder of a valid International Driver’s Permit.”

It only makes sense.
In most places, carrying an International Driver’s Permit isn’t even sufficient. Drivers must also carry their home country’s driving permit in addition to the International Driver’s Permit, or a certified translation. 

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An example of an International Driving Permit. (ProjectManhattan)


International Driver’s Permits are easy to get and would not be considered an onerous requirement for foreign drivers.

For example, in British Columbia, all you have to do is be over 18 years old,  provide two passport-sized photos and a payment of $25, along with proof that you hold a valid provincial driver’s licence. You would submit the application to the BCAA, and they’ll provide you the International Driver’s Permit, which includes translations in 10 different languages. 

They do the same thing in the United States. 
In the United States where local traffic laws are similarly governed by states, some states will specifically require that foreign drivers carry an International Driver’s Licence. This actually ruffled quite a few feathers when the requirement was put in place in Florida, effectively making it all Canadian travellers driving in the Sunshine State illegal – unless they had an IDP. 

And also the same thing in the UK.
The United Kingdom’s driving privileges are managed by the national Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency, which requires all drivers with non European Community or European Economic Area licences to carry valid foreign licences, or International Driving Permits

Only then are drivers exempt from obtaining a UK driver’s licence for up to 12 months from the date they entered the country. 

In Australia, the law is even more strict.
Almost every state in Australia requires International Driving Permits or official English translations if the driver’s licence is not in English. 

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Regardless of where you live, road rules are pretty similar across nearly all developed countries.


​There’s a reason it seems like all these countries implicitly trust the driver training of their counterparts.  I mean, there’s something to be said in how all most developed countries require is a slip of paper from your home government translating your licence. It’s because driver training programs are actually quite similar around the world — at least among signatories of the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.

This document sets out most of the rules already familiar to driver’s in BC. You know, things like driving with due care, keeping to directional flows of traffic, keeping speed at a level the driver is capable of controlling, types of vehicle lights required at night, and so on.

Really, it’s all common sense, and it’s not surprising that these types of rules form the basis of written and practical tests available at almost every country that accepts foreign driver’s licences in lieu of requiring every foreign visitor to take a driving exam.

It is this same document that sets out a “model” example of domestic driving permits for signatories, and goes on further to set out what an International Driving Permit should look like, and how the different countries should permit drivers holding these IDPs on their roads.

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This convention established things such as road rules and driving permits, and was ratified by more than 90 states around the world, including Canada.


​​The international community already has these agreements in place.
In fact, driving programs in different countries are so similar that they seem almost identical. For example, in the UK, drivers starting at age 15 and nine months are allowed to obtain a “provisional” learner’s permit which lets them drive under supervision, for the purposes of learning. It’s almost identical to how a Learner permit works here in BC. They even have an “L” licence plate requirement, just like our “L” stickers.

Once these provisional trainee drivers have passed their written and road tests, they can drive immediately, but you’re also considered to be under a “probationary period” for two years. Sort of just like the “Novice” licence in BC. 

During these two years, if these new probationary drivers receive six or more driving penalty points, their licences are automatically revoked. Again, this is nearly identical to BC’s own provisions, which place stricter rules on Novice drivers, including a zero tolerance for alcohol and lower thresholds for driving prohibitions compared to fully licenced drivers. 

The point of all this is to say that foreign drivers are not going to wreak havoc on BC’s roads.
There’s a reason they’re already permitted to drive around as long as they’re carrying a valid licence. So why not do our police officers a favour and simply require that these drivers carry a translation or an International Driving Permit if they’re carrying a licence printed in a different language from English or French.

It would save a lot of headache, and let’s be honest, other places in the world have had these requirements since as early as 1949.

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