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Bermudian drivers in Azores caught out by gap in law

On the road in the Azores (Image from online)

Bermudian drivers in the Azores have been arrested and fined in Azorean courts over a longstanding grey area that technically renders Bermuda driving licences invalid there, The Royal Gazette has been told.

The issue has been highlighted for more than a decade but was said to be an increasing difficulty as connections deepened between Bermuda and the Portuguese territory, which share historical cultural links.

Andrea Moniz-DeSouza, the Honorary Consul of Portugal in Bermuda, spoke to the Gazette about the problem.

It was raised after a member of the public, who now owns property in the Azores, sounded a warning in April to the Ministry of Transport over Bermuda’s “very serious and risky situation with regard to the vehicle rental market globally”.

Both said the issue emanated from Bermuda’s noncompliance with an international treaty, the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.

Ms Moniz-DeSouza said Bermuda-licensed drivers encountering trouble in the Azores did not need to get in an accident — but simply to be stopped at regular police checkpoints.

“People have been arrested,” she said, speaking from the Azores.

“They have been lucky enough when they have appeared in the courts here to say they were not aware of it, and were fined.

“Right now the court excuses it, but it’s definitely an issue.”

Ms Moniz-DeSouza added: “This has been an ongoing issue with minister after minister in both governments, and Bermuda has not budged.

“We have not come to a successful conclusion.”

She highlighted broader implications, with Bermudians driving in Europe technically not possessing valid insurance because the island is not signatory to the international treaty.

Ms Moniz-DeSouza said: “If Bermudians driving all over Europe have invalid insurance because they are driving illegally, that’s huge.

“I think it’s dangerous that people are not aware of this.”

More Bermudians are travelling to the Azores, a group of Atlantic islands and one of the autonomous regions of Portugal, since regular SATA Azores Airline flights from Ponta Delgada began four years ago this week.

However, the issue dates back at least to 2013, when Bermudians in Florida were required to hold an international drivers permit because of a change in state law — and the island’s absence from the Geneva Convention was underscored as problematic.

In 2017, the transport ministry acknowledged online that it was aware of “sporadic problems in Canada and South Africa, and major issues in the Azores” specifically because of the convention.

The statement followed Bermudians caught by surprise after they ran into difficulties renting cars with the Bermuda licence from a single agency at Logan Airport in Massachusetts.

Michael Fahy, who was then the Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities under the One Bermuda Alliance administration, pointed out a potential headache faced by the island over joining the treaty.

Mr Fahy said: “In short, reciprocity of recognition of driving credentials would mean that visitors to Bermuda will be able to use their licences to drive a car in Bermuda — although we are also exploring what reciprocity restrictions we may be able to place on such recognition.”

Seven years ago, talks were said to be continuing with Government House as well as Bermuda’s taxi drivers over getting a resolution to the impasse.

At present, while visitors to Bermuda can rent minicars, the island does not offer car rentals.

Ms Moniz-DeSouza said she had heard nothing, but had recently flagged up the matter with the Legislative Assembly of the Azores.

The Bermudian who contacted the ministry in April said that “inclusion in this convention is crucial to ensure Bermudians can rent cars legally and safely while travelling abroad, especially with the new direct flight to the Azores”.

He told the Gazette that he had not heard since of any headway on the matter, or heard back from the ministry.

The man, who requested not to be identified, said his family recently bought property in the Azores, and had been able to gain the trust of rental agencies over the issue.

He said his difficulties had been refusal to rent at “certain companies” in the Azores.

However, he warned that the broader issue was that Bermudians renting cars in other jurisdictions “risk driving without valid insurance, which can lead to severe legal and financial consequences”.

He added: “The absence of proper insurance can expose drivers to fines, lawsuits and even criminal charges in case of accidents, potentially resulting in significant personal financial burdens.”

The Gazette queried the Ministry of Transport on whether the Geneva Convention snag was any closer to being settled but received no response by press time last night.

• Have you experienced trouble with your Bermuda driving licence overseas, particularly in the Azores? Contact us at news@royalgazette.com

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Published June 04, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated June 04, 2024 at 7:36 am)

Bermudian drivers in Azores caught out by gap in law

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