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If you think your military-issued driver’s license is good for all of Europe, take a closer look.

The fine print — so fine that it’s not on there — is that it’s highly recommended that American military personnel get an international driving permit if they’re planning to travel across borders.

All 26 NATO member countries typically recognize the various American overseas military licenses, said Tom Lorenzini, vehicle registrar at U.S. Army Europe headquarters in Heidelberg. But with the World Cup soccer championships in Germany this summer, officials are planning reciprocal security checks on borders that are normally open, Lorenzini said.

Some customs agents and police may not remember, for example, that France accepts U.S. military-issued operator’s licenses. Or, they may not be able to read the German/English USAREUR license, denying entry, or giving a citation for not having a license.

It’s a fate easily avoided by getting an International Driving Permit, Lorenzini said. The international permit is simply a legally recognized translation of a valid U.S. operator’s license, Lorenzini said: That’s all it is … a translation.

Officials “have always stressed that people need an international license,” he said.

But Americans tend to believe their individual operator’s licenses are valid everywhere, he said.

In fact, what many U.S. military personnel in Germany refer to as the “USAREUR license” is actually the U.S. Forces Certificate of License, and it states right on the front that it’s for United States Forces in Germany.

In Belgium, it’s the “SHAPE license.” In Italy, Army personnel may have a SETAF license. The Air Force issues yet another, and Naval Support Activity Naples issues a translation of valid U.S. license after personnel pass a test on Italian road rules. In Spain, U.S. personnel actually get a Spanish government license through base classes.

The fact there’s not one universal European military license typically isn’t a problem, Lorenzini said.

Where it’s likely to become a problem, he said, is when personnel drive through non-NATO nations such as Switzerland, where the military license is not accepted. International permits also are required when entering Austria, Greece, Spain, and all Middle Eastern countries.

Get in an accident or have some other problem, and you’re covered by the international permit, Lorenzini said. Lately, a number of U.S. military personnel have been stopped, so USAREUR has posted a notice on its Web site at: http://www.hqusareur.army.mil.

Americans in Europe can get international licenses from local authorities, and the cost is between 12 and 20 euros. In Germany, USAREUR driver testing stations on base have information about where you can get the permits in your area. Requirements differ from country to country, but include:

A valid U.S. forces driver’s license;Two passport-size photos taken in civilian clothes;A U.S. passport (required for civilians and family members).The permits also are available through the American Automobile Association in the U.S. or ADAC, the European equivalent of AAA, but they are more expensive and expire earlier than through local offices. The international permits cannot be used in the issuing country, but may be used in the U.S. by those with an expired stateside license, Lorenzini said.

The main thing to remember is there is no single authority on licensing and other driving issues, and Lorenzini recommends that Americans check with base officials and local police on rules and regulations.

Laws, regulations and requirements vary even among European Union members. All EU countries someday may have uniform traffic and vehicle laws, but not in the near future, said Baumholder Police spokesman Siegfried Meyer.

So, certain countries, such as Austria and the Netherlands — but not Germany — require motorists to have orange safety vests in their cars as of April 1, Myers said. And not only does Austria require the vests, but they must be accessible in the driver’s compartment, not in the trunk, so people can put them on before leaving the car, he added.

Also, Austria, but not Germany, requires drivers to drive with their lights on at all times, Meyer said.

If you need an incentive to check into local laws, just remember this: USAREUR personnel racked up 86,000 driving violations during 2005.

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