Wednesday, October 23, 2013

When a Permit is NOT a Permission: The International Driver's License Dilemma

Is this worth anything? Fake is Fake no matter what it says!

I live and practice law right down the road from Cornell University. Every year thousands of new students from countries and places far and wide come to Ithaca, NY to study, research, and teach.
In the first few weeks of each new school term our little NYS DMV office on 3rd street is flooded with young people desiring a NYS license and/or attempting to register a car.

International Driving Permits vs. Foreign Driver's Licenses

First, to make things clear, there is NO such thing as an International Driver's License. There is NO world or recognized and sanctioned global organization that issues an International Driver's License.
There are foreign licenses issued by hundreds of countries.

Second, a international (foreign) license and a international permit are NOT the same thing. They sound so similar, and that is what makes it all so confusing. NYS and most states have a special learner's permit (which does give privileges to drive a car). Even the Cornell website (which guides international students) has it wrong (yes, Virginia even Cornell sometimes gets it wrong).

Obtaining an International Driver's License: We suggest that you obtain a current International Driver's License (also called the International Driving Permit) in your home country, if possible, because it might avoid confusion if the police stop you while driving. 

NOTE: It should state get a foreign license and a foreign permit in your own country.

3 Important FACTS about International Permits and Foreign Licenses in New York State.

1. A Permit is Not a Permission to drive when it is an International Driving Permit.

An International Permit is primarily a TRANSLATION. It translates your foreign license into 10 different (recognized United Nations) languages. This is so when and if the police pull you over, ie. stop your car, they can then read and understand your foreign license. One of the most common police stops (motorist detentions) is for speeding. BTW It is very easy to exceed the Ithaca City speed limits.

Remember: 30 mph is the city limit, school zones are posted at 20 mph (most till 6:00PM), and Ithaca College and CU even have many 10 mph zones. If there is heavy foot traffic on Cornell Campus, slower is always better and safer. You can receive a ticket even if driving below the posted limit if the conditions are dangerous (icy/snowy weather) and your speed is UN-reasonable for those conditions.

2. You should always carry three things when driving in New York State:

Your Foreign Driver's License, Your International Driving Permit, and Your INS document (a valid I 94). The INS document I 94 is to show the date you last lawfully entered the United States. It is also an easy way for nonimmigrants to show evidence of a lawful entry to law enforcement.

3. You can legally drive a car in New York State if you have a valid foreign driver's license.
Increased tension and fear can lead to more tickets

Why The Police Often Get it Wrong
The Police Often Give a ticket for Unlicensed Operator to foreign license holders. Many law enforcement officers (troopers, deputies, and local police) do not understand or know that valid foreign license holders can legally drive in New York state or any state for that matter.
That is WHY I recommend that you carry (possess) all of the above documents at the time of driving anyplace in the United States. Terrorist and home security fears are heightened. These days having more documentation of your legal rights and lawful entry I believe are a good thing.

Legally speaking, all you need to drive in New York is a valid driver's license (from any state or country). BUT Police will mistakenly cite, and violate many international students for VTL 509 (1) Unlicensed Operator even when they produce a valid foreign license. That is why having the translation (International Driving Permit) and the INS  I 94 can maybe can avoid that mistake.
What is VTL 509 (1) Unlicensed Operator?
The New York State charge of Unlicensed Operator is a violation level offense. It is non-criminal. 
What will happen if I ignore a VTL 509 (1) traffic ticket?
An unlicensed operator ticket MUST be addressed and handled. If it is neglected, if you do not show up to Court, if you do not answer the complaint against you, if you do not respond to the ticket THEN your driving privileges in New York will be suspended on our computer system. 
The police, the NY Courts, and the NYS DMV all share the TSLED system. The Traffic Safety Law Enforcement Division System. Driving on a known suspended license (or privilege) is a crime in NYS. That is the criminal misdemeanor called "Aggravated Unlicensed Operation." The aggravating factor is "knowledge" of a suspension (even though you are probably unaware of it). 
What are the differences between Unlicensed Operator and Aggravated Unlicensed Operation?
VTL 509 (1) is punishable by fines, NYS surcharge, and even 15 days in jail. Although, it is highly unlikely that someone would be sent to jail for this offense.
VTL 511 AUO (aggravated unlicensed operation) is a criminal misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to one year in jail.
The final big question????
When MUST you legally exchange your foreign license for a NYS driver's license?
If and when you have the mental INTENT to become a "fixed and permanent" resident of NYS then you should get a NYS license. If you (in your mind) still reside in China, or Germany, or Japan, or Korea and you have no desire (or dream) to re-locate and reside here permanently then you do not have to get a NYS driver's license. 
Finally, Being Practical (can you reconcile practical and college student?)
Now to be practical, for the purposes of renting a car, it may be far easier with a NYS license, for purposes of buying, registering, and insuring a car it may be impossible (or costly) without a NYS license.

Lawrence (Larry) Newman, D.C., J.D.

Originally, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. My father was a NYS corrections officer, and my mother a waitress. I now live in Ithaca, NY with my wife (of 25 years), and four kids. I have a B.S. in Human Biology, Doctorates in Law and Chiropractic, and a Post Graduate in Acupuncture. I practiced as a Chiropractic Physician in Florida from 1986 to 1995. I graduated law school in 1997, and went on to practice trial law in FL, NY, NJ, and PA. I love practicing criminal defense and injury law within the Finger Lakes Region of New York State.

Over 90% of the cases that I take on are New York DWI defense cases. I am certified as a breath tester by the Department of Transportation, the guidelines of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). I am certified in Field Sobriety Tests, and an active member of the National College of DUI Defense (NCDD). My online materials include over 450 blog posts, dozens of articles, and over 435 informative videos on my youtube channel.

I have co-authored Strategies for Defending DWI Cases in New York, in both 2011 and 2013. These are West Thomson legal manuals on New York State DWI defense, and focus on the best practices for other lawyers handling a New York DWI case. Included in Strategies for Defending DWI Cases in New York are materials I provide clients, such as my fee agreement and ways to avoid misdemeanor probation. I was selected by Super Lawyers as a Upstate New York 2013 Rising Star in DWI/DUI Defense based on my experience, contributions, and professional standing.


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