Ads for international drivers' licenses or permits could be a dead end

| Monday, January 20, 2003

If you're tempted by ads claiming you can use an international driver's license (IDL) or an international driving permit (IDP) in place of your state-issued driver's license, it's a dead end, says the Federal Trade Commission.

The international documents are being marketed to drivers with too many points on their driver's licenses or licenses that have been suspended or revoked. Ads and offers for fake IDLs and IDPs are showing up on Web sites and as spam e-mail. They also are sold "on the street" and through storefront operations. The price for one of these fake documents can range from $65 to $350.

Although an IDP is a real document when issued by the proper authorities, it is not a legal alternative to your state-issued license. If you are stopped by a law-enforcement officer and present an IDL or an IDP as proof of your identity and authorization to drive, you could be arrested.

IDPs are part of a United Nations treaty – which the United States is a part of – that gives residents of one country the right to drive in other countries using the driver's license issued by the government where they live. The treaty created the international driving permit to make this arrangement easier.

An IDP translates your state-issued driver’s license – issued by the state where you live, allowing you to drive anywhere in the United States and Canada, usable as valid proof of your identity to law-enforcement officials – into 10 languages so you can show it to officials in foreign countries to help them interpret your driver’s license.

If you're a U.S. resident, an IDP is useless within the United States. IDPs are not intended to replace state-issued driver's licenses and should be used only as a supplement to a valid license when traveling in a foreign country. In addition, IDPs are not proof of identity.

The U.S. Department of State has authorized only two organizations to issue IDPs to U.S. residents. The organizations, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA), are permitted to sell IDPs only to people who are at least 18 years old and only to those who have a valid driver's license issued by a U.S. state or territory. The AAA and the AATA charge $10 for each IDP.

The marketers falsely claim their documents authorize consumers to drive legally in the United States, even if they don't have state-issued licenses or if their state-issued licenses have been suspended or revoked. They also claim the documents can be used to avoid points or fines affecting state-issued drivers’ licenses and can be used as photo ID in the United States.

FTC officials say all these claims are false. In fact, if you’re a U.S. resident and you're caught using an IDP in place of your state-issued driver’s license, the consequences can be severe.

You could be charged with driving without a license or driving with a suspended or revoked license. If you can’t produce proof of your identity – for example, a valid driver’s license, a state-issued identification card, valid immigration documents or a passport – the officer can assume you’re trying to withhold your identity and arrest you.

If you've been scammed by a seller of bogus IDLs or IDPs, report it to the FTC by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or file a complaint online at www.ftc.gov.

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