International Driver’s Licenses

The subject of international driver’s licenses is one of my favorite subjects. A driver can avoid many points, and some very high fines by obtaining an international driver’s license. Generally speaking, an international driver’s license is issued to a person based upon he or she having a valid driver’s license in his or her native country. As per the Hague International Convention, the international driver should process and present to the police their international license, and their license from their home country. Many times international drivers will obtain copies of these licenses in English.

The M.V.C. has taken the position that a person who has a valid license in their home country, may lawfully operate a motor vehicle in New Jersey under that license. However, there is a major limitation to this policy. The limitation is that the authority to drive under the foreign license in New Jersey is valid for a period of no more than one year.

Presumably, after one year, a person holding a foreign license would then have to apply for a New Jersey license. However, in order to do that, he or she must be able to provide, “satisfactory proof that the applicant’s presence in the United States is authorized under federal law.” N.J.S.A. 39:3-10 and N.J.A.C. 13:21-8.2(b). Thus, people who are in the United States on a visa, and who are properly licensed in their native countries, can lawfully drive during their first year in New Jersey, provided that they operate the same class of vehicle for which they hold a foreign license. However, after one year, they will have to stop driving and they will not be able to apply for a New Jersey license because of their illegal immigration status. By contrast, a foreign national who is legally in the United States and who plans to remain for one year or less may apply for a New Jersey driver’s license if he or she does not hold one from his or her country of origin.

If a person is licensed outside of the United States, and if he/she becomes a resident of the New Jersey then the rules are different. People who become residents of New Jersey from other states may continue to drive under a license granted by their former states for a period of 60 days. Thereafter, they must apply for a New Jersey license. As in all license applications, a driver from another state will have to present proof that he or she has legal status to be in the United States as one of the conditions of licensure.

In summary, international driver’s licenses can provide a wealth of innovative defenses to bad drivers. Many police officers erroneously believe that most if not all international licenses are bogus. However, valid international licenses can be a life saver. International licenses are very colorful, and most of them are purple. They do not look like a United States driver’s licenses at all. It is common knowledge that many international licenses are purchased on the “street” in New York City. Don’t try to buy some of these bogus licenses. This type of ploy could get you indicted for a fraud charge. I would advise anyone to contact their local M.V.S. in their home country, and get any necessary documents to verify that you have a license in your home country. I would also advise the person to go to their local embassy and submit their application to obtain an international license. Please make a copy of the application and bring it to court.

Many times the courts and the prosecutors simply don’t have the time to perform a follow up investigation on your international license. This strategy can provide you with tremendous leverage to obtain a very reasonable plea offer from the prosecutor. In conclusion, applying for or obtaining an international license can be an excellent tool in raising a creative defense for your municipal court case. However, a driver must do their “homework” and obtain the necessary license and documents to substantiate this type of creative defense.