Germany Will Again Recognize Expired US State Driver's Licenses

Customers fill out paperwork to obtain a U.S. Army Europe license at Daenner Kaserne, Germany, Jan. 15, 2015. Joshua L. Demotts/Stars and Stripes
Customers fill out paperwork to obtain a U.S. Army Europe license at Daenner Kaserne, Germany, Jan. 15, 2015. Joshua L. Demotts/Stars and Stripes

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Americans who have expired stateside licenses but valid U.S. forces licenses can resume driving in Germany after local authorities backed down from a policy that had stripped driving privileges from some DOD personnel and dependents.

"German authorities will go back to the old policy and continue to recognize expired state licenses as long as there is a valid USAREUR Certificate of License," U.S. Army Europe spokeswoman Hilde Patton said in an emailed statement late Thursday. "Cases that were initiated solely for driving with an expired U.S. license (but valid USAREUR Certificate of License) will be discontinued."

The issue was resolved at the diplomatic level, she said.

Last month, German police in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, home to the largest U.S. military community in the country, began enforcing new regulations under which an expired stateside license was no longer recognized, even when presented in conjunction with a valid USAREUR license. Law enforcement in the German state also ignored documentation that extended the validity of some stateside licenses in accordance with laws in the states where they were issued.

That was a new interpretation of the German supplement to the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, which USAREUR disputed, maintaining that one side could not unilaterally re-interpret the SOFA. Any change to its interpretation would require consultation, USAREUR argued.

Most German states never implemented the new interpretation, though it was agreed among most of the states and the federal Transportation Ministry, according to German officials. Rheinland-Pfalz officials, however, said they had to follow the federal rules.

However, Rheinland-Pfalz unilaterally relaxed the rules last week, opening the door for some Americans to get German licenses and allowing expired stateside licenses to be considered valid under specific conditions. Now, however, those measures are moot. 

USAREUR, which oversees the licensing of U.S. forces in Germany, hadn't kept track of how many Americans were driving on expired stateside licenses, because it hadn't been an issue before January. But more than 9,000 Americans who earned their USAREUR licenses under an old testing system that didn't require any ​stateside license are still in the country, according to the command.

The resolution of the dispute was deemed consistent with the SOFA, which dictates certain procedures, entitlements and rights of foreign personnel in Germany. 

"It has been deemed consistent with Art. 9, para. 2 of the SA to NATO SOFA that the legal entitlement to drive a private vehicle in Germany remains in force even when the corresponding U.S. state license has expired."

German officials did not immediately respond to questions about possible changes to their policy.

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