Legally Driving in Michigan with a Mexican Driver’s License

Persons who are not citizens of the United States often have trouble obtaining driver’s licenses in the State of Michigan.  With the state of public transportation, the only way for persons to get from one destination to another is by automobile.  If person cannot obtain a Michigan driver’s license, what can be done?

There are treaties that exist between the United States and some foreign countries that allow foreigners to drive in the United States as long as they have a valid driver’s license from their home country and an international driver’s license.  It only makes sense that a shopper from Canada or a truck driver from Mexico is allowed to lawfully travel in Michigan and other States.  There is case law in Michigan that supports this.

According to the Michigan Court of Appeals decision of People v. Valeriano Acosta-Bautista, 296 Mich App 404 (2012), Michigan recognizes and observes a longstanding treaty that allows foreign nationals from certain countries to drive legally in Michigan if they have a valid license from their home country.  Attorney Daniel Hilf of the law firm of Hilf & Hilf, PLC has litigated this issue in Court successfully on many occasions.  We have experience in traffic, criminal, and immigration cases.

The United States, Mexico, and several other Central and South American countries are signatories to the 1943 Convention on the Regulation of Inter-American Automotive Traffic, which provides for reciprocal driving rights throughout the respective countries to this treaty.

Then Michigan Attorney General Michael Cox also recognized this in an opinion he authored in 2005.  The Michigan State Police has concurred as well in Field Update #34 that was issued in 2010.

MCL 257.302a(1) states that “[e]xcept as otherwise provided in this act, a nonresident operator of a motor vehicle who is the holder of a license to operate a motor vehicle in the country in which he or she resides is not required to obtain a license to operate a passenger vehicle within this state, if he or she does not receive compensation for such an operation”.

Unfortunately, many police officers are not educated in these provisions of the law.  Furthermore, when there is a language barrier it may prevent the foreigner from telling the officer his or her side of the story.  Many foreigners end up ticketed for a misdemeanor charge of Driving Without a License and plea guilty even when they are not guilty of this offense.  Certain Courts will even contact ICE, or require the Defendant to contact ICE, to report their status.  This causes unnecessary stress, anxiety, and worry.  It can even lead to detention and deportation in some cases.  Please, when it is possible carry your home country driver’s license (that is not expired) and an international driver’s license with you when driving.  When you receive a ticket you should hire an experienced criminal lawyer with experience with this legal issue.

It is important to remember that even if you are lawfully able to drive in Michigan, you still have to follow all the traffic laws.  You must maintain proper insurance.  If there is an accident, you must stop.   You cannot drink and drive, or drive under the influence.  Your car cannot have defective equipment such as broken taillights and cracked windshields.  Children must have proper car seats.  The best best for a foreigner is to maintain their car properly and follow al driving laws to reduce the chance of having police contact.