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Cedric Stephens Foreign drivers under the new road law

QUESTION: Are non-Jamaicans living here who hold driver’s licences issued by the authorities in their countries of origin permitted to drive vehicles under Jamaica’s new Road Traffic Act without passing the local driving test?

– MW, Kingston 9

RISKS & INSURANCE: The short, quick answer to your question is yes. This is according to three sources. The first is The Road Traffic Regulations Part IV, Section 157.

Subsection 1 of it says: “A person who is the holder of a driver’s licence, pursuant to the Act or a person who is resident in Jamaica may apply for an international driving permit [IDP], which authorises that person to drive a motor vehicle in a country which is a party to the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, provided that such person is at least eighteen years old.”

‘May’ is the most critical word in understanding the intent of Subsection 1. It means that the foreigner has the option of applying for an IDP or driving in Jamaica with his country-issued permit. If the word ‘shall’ were used in the regulation, the possibilities would have been different – an IDP or a driving licence issued by the Jamaican authorities.

Subsection 2 describes the process for obtaining an IDP. “A person who desires to obtain an international driving permit shall apply to the Island Traffic Authority” on the Form H4 together with a valid driver’s licence; two photographs of the applicant, taken not more than six months before making the application and certified by a justice of the peace; and payment of a fee.

Significantly, driving tests are not mentioned in Subsection 2.

Getting an IDP can take eight minutes, according to one source. Additionally, it was suggested that if the official language of the issuing authority abroad is English, the foreign driver’s licence can be tendered as a valid driving permit. While there is nothing in Subsection 1 or 2 to support this interpretation, nothing in the regulations explicitly prevents the local authorities from accepting a valid foreign-issued driving permit as permission to operate a vehicle per local regulations.

The United States recorded roughly 81,000 travellers from Jamaica in 2020. In 2021, the number was nearly 160,000. This was down from a peak of 293,000 in 2019. Some of these persons had driving permits issued by local authorities. They rented and drove vehicles owned by family members and friends during their US visits. Some received tickets for traffic violations. In the three decades, this column has existed, I have never heard of a case where the American traffic authorities have refused to accept a locally issued driving permit.

Jamaican motor insurance policies, seemingly, do not discriminate against holders of driving permits that are issued abroad. Certificates of motor insurance typically say the following: ‘Provided that the person driving is permitted in accordance with the licensing or other laws or regulations to drive the motor vehicle or has been so permitted and is not disqualified by order of a court of law or because of any enactment or regulation in that behalf from driving the motor vehicle’.

Motor policies issued in Jamaica must comply with the Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third-Party Risks) Act. Nothing in this law expressly prevents motor insurers from granting indemnity to holders of foreign driving permits or licences.

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: or

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