Many foreign driver licences not considered valid here

If you're visiting Richmond from three of the most populous countries in the world—China, India and Indonesia, with a combined 2.75 billion people—and planning to drive, think twice.

A driver's licence issued by those countries isn't recognized as valid by the RCMP.

And that means if you're pulled over—whether while here studying or on vacation—you're subject to a $276 fine, according to RCMP Const. Dennis Hwang, of the Richmond detachment's traffic section.

It's an issue that local Mounties deal with on a daily basis, one made more complicated by the fact that the Insurance Corporation of B.C. isn't on the same page as the RCMP.

The RCMP considers a foreign driver's licence valid only if accompanied by an International Driving Permit from a country that's signed on to the United Nations agreement, under which member nations can issue licences valid across all member countries.

While most countries have signed on to the 1968 agreement, there are some that haven't. Aside from China, India and Indonesia, the list of non-signers also includes Mexico, Iraq and Costa Rica.

ICBC's perspective is different; an official driver's licence "issued by the People's Republic of China or any other country, is acceptable in B.C. for any visiting tourist up to six months," according to ICBC spokesperson Adam Grossman. He cited a Motor Vehicle Act section for exemptions, that includes full-time students in B.C. who study at a recognized institution.

While the provincial insurer and Mounties don't agree on the issue, they're working to resolve the concerns.

"We are aware that Richmond RCMP has raised concerns regarding some overseas driver licences and we are in discussion to try and assist them with this issue as quickly as possible," Grossman said Wednesday. "In fact, we met yesterday and have offered to share our expertise to help them validate licences at the roadside. Discussions to resolve this are ongoing."

According to Const. Hwang, any RCMP jurisdiction in B.C., including Burnaby, North Vancouver and Langley, will interpret the law in the same fashion, and can at their discretion issue a ticket. Those who continue to drive without a permit, and have been ticketed twice, are flagged to have their vehicle impounded for future encounters.

But if you go across the Oak Street Bridge from Richmond, the rules of the game change.

The Vancouver Police Department is taking a slightly different stance on the issue.

Const. Brian Montague said all foreign drivers licences will be accepted as valid in Vancouver, as long as they are accompanied by an ICBC-issued translation document. For foreign students, their homeland licences will be considered valid as long as they also have valid identification from an accredited school.

So what's prompted this issue to come to the surface?

According to Richmond RCMP Cpl. Stephanie Ashton, local police are encountering invalid foreign licences every day, and that's raised both public safety concerns, as well as hindered a police officer's ability to verify whether the person they've pulled over is who they say they are.

Faced with a licence that's in a different language, a police can't ascertain whether the driver is even permitted to drive in their home country, or if the document is authentic rather than forged.

For the general public, the issue could prove to create bigger headaches, Const. Hwang said.

Imagine, for example, if a local resident was in an accident with someone holding only a non-recognized foreign driver's licence.

If that foreign driver happens to be from a non-English speaking country, verifying the information from their driver's licence will present a challenge.

Even in the case of a minor fender-bender, the police might be called in to assist when there's a language barrier or questions about identification, at which point a ticket might be issued to the foreign driver for failing to have an International Driving Permit.

In Alberta, foreign drivers are only permitted when holding an International Driving Permit.

The rules are different in Saskatchewan, which also has a provincial car insurer, and accepts foreign driver's licences, without mentioning any exclusions or the need for an International Driving Permit.

What's also at issue is driving test standards in unaccredited foreign countries.

From the RCMP's point of view, Hwang said the reason a country might not have signed the U.N. agreement is because of their sub-standard driving regulations in comparison to other countries.

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