Car Hire: Driving Legalities
A guide to the legalities of hiring a rental vehicle
The requirements, procedures and legalities of renting a vehicle on Tobago are similar to those in most countries.
- Drivers must be 25+ years old and have at least two years driving experience.
- Driving licences must be presented on collection of the rental vehicle. Don’t forget those of anyone else who may wish to drive - a reserve driver is always a wise precaution. It is important to declare additional drivers when booking or collecting the vehicle to ensure they are covered by the insurance.
- Take your full national driving licence – not a photocopy – and do not rely upon so-called International Driving Permits (these are sometimes not as ‘International’ as they claim to be).
Drivers who have suffered a major driving conviction or insurance claim must declare details or the insurance may be invalid. If in doubt, raise the matter with the rental agency when booking your car. Doing so before arriving on Tobago will avoid delays or disappointment on collection.
The first letter of the registration number of the vehicle indicates the vehicle’s licensing class:
P – Private/Non-commercial vehicle
H – Taxi
R – Rental Vehicle
T – Commercial Vehicle/Truck
The practise of renting P-registered private vehicles to visitors has long been endemic in Tobago. Most visitors, like myself, couldn’t care less about the licensing class, but be warned that the normal hire-and-reward insurance does not cover vehicles registered for private usage.
Having a 'P' plate does NOT automatically mean that the vehicle is not insured for rental. Regular visitors - particularly those from Trinidad - often ask rental agencies for P-plated cars so that they don't look like tourists. The agencies CAN get hire-and/or-reward insurance but doing so is the exception, rather than the rule. I only know of one popular agency that has arranged such cover. As an ex-policeman, I guess Sheppy has got to do things by the book.
By law, a valid certificate of insurance must be carried on the vehicle at all times. This is normally kept in the front glove compartment. When you take delivery of your rental vehicle, check the vehicle’s registration plate. If it carries a P plate, check the insurance certificate (it's a good job to do this anyway) and refuse to accept the vehicle if the conditions specifically exclude 'hire and/or reward' and does not clearly extend the cover to privately-registered vehicles.
The police have treated this situation with laxity. However, an increasing number of villa/guesthouse owners and small rental agencies have adopted the practise, leaving visitors and road users at financial risk. Consequently, the police do seem to be cracking down and now conduct regular road checks. Visitors driving P-plated private cars are treated sympathetically and not subject to legal proceedings, but may find themselves spending several hours at the local police station giving statements. The moral of the story is:
~~~~ Don’t take the P ~~~~