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NEWS FROM: Director’s Office 02-004


There’s a new look to driver licenses at some Department of Motor Vehicles offices in northern Nevada and the new look will soon be available statewide.  The new license looks similar to a credit card, is harder to fake, lasts longer than the license that’s now in your wallet and uses digital technology.

 “We can now store a driver’s photograph and signature on computer along with all the other information,” said Ginny Lewis, director of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.  “We piloted the system in Minden and are unveiling it in Reno.  By the end of May it will be working in all 21 DMV offices.”

The new license is not required.  It will soon be standard issue for new drivers and will slowly replace the old style through the normal renewal process.

“We encourage motorists to wait until the time to renew their license before giving up the laminated one for a digital license,” Lewis said.  The major advantage of the new license is it’s harder to fake, according to Lewis, but the new technology is not a response to the 9-11 attack.

“Although digitized licenses have more security features than laminated ones,” she said, “we’ve been planning this move for years.  Film-based licenses have become obsolete. We would have eventually been pushed into this technology simply through a lack of support for the old.”

Lewis said that the new driver licenses won’t be any harder to get than the old style but they won’t be any easier either.

“We still have some of the strictest driver license requirements in the nation,” she said, “but all that’s affected here is the physical product motorists will receive after meeting those requirements.  What you’ll get is a durable license, similar to a credit card, that’s a lot harder to fake than the old one.”

Driver licenses are used as a primary source of identification and some experts say there are millions of false licenses in the country.  Besides being used by those under 21 to buy alcohol, fake IDs are used to commit crimes.  Timothy McVeigh used a fake driver license to rent the truck used in the Oklahoma City bombing and banks estimate that identity fraud costs them over $1 billion annually.

“Just the fact that the digitized license is harder to counterfeit means a lot,” Lewis said.  “It means fewer young people drinking illegally, fewer people driving illegally and fewer people being the victims of identity theft.  It means safer Nevada roads, pure and simple.”

One feature of the new license is designed to combat underage drinking.  A license issued to someone under 21 is printed in a vertical format, the opposite of a license for someone 21 or older.  There is also a bright yellow band across the license with the date the driver turns 21 clearly displayed.  The new licenses also have a readable strip printed on the back that’s similar to the product code on grocery store items.

“It’s called a 2-D Bar Code,” Lewis said.  “All the information printed on the card is coded on the strip which can be read by handheld equipment.  It’s extremely difficult to fake.  Law enforcement officers and even merchants can determine the validity of a license in mere seconds.  If the information displayed when it’s swiped isn’t what’s printed on the license, it’s bogus.”

The new license is slightly more expensive. 

“The cost of a driver license will go up $1.25,” Lewis said.  “Spread over the four-year life of a license, though, that’s about $.56 a year.  That’s a pretty small price to pay for the security this type of license has to offer.”  Although the new license will cost motorists a bit more, the system won’t be costing the DMV a thing. 

“We have a contract with the Digimarc Corporation in Oregon,” Lewis said, “the leader in digital watermarking.  They provide the technology, equipment, training, maintenance and supplies on a per piece basis.  That’s the same deal we had with the company that provided us with laminated licenses.”

Rural motorists will see a change, however.  Because the new equipment isn’t portable, teams of DMV employees who now travel to rural areas to provide services will not be able to immediately issue digitized licenses.

“We’ll have to issue a paper license,” Lewis said, “and mail them the digitized license after the teams return to the office.”

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