Mobile Driver’s License Technology Being Trialed

January 2, 2016 - Written By David Steele

It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that, should a police traffic officer wish to stop you for a ticket, instead of approaching for the classic British “is this your car, sir?” line, instead your smartphone unit has notified you that the police service wish to view your driving license. You’ll be able to authorise this request on your device and by the time the officer is walking up to your car, he or she will have your details. A quick visual inspection of your vehicle ensues and shortly thereafter, the ticket arrives on your smartphone or Android Auto unit in your car. You are told that you can enter a plea on the device and even pay the fine.

This year, back in August to be precise, the Iowa Department of Transportation spent $40,000 on a pilot scheme providing fifteen state employees with a mobile driver’s license, known as the “mDL.” The service, currently only available on the Apple iPhone, displays a virtual driver’s license including what the developers are calling the “Harry Potter feature,” which is a rotatable image of the driver’s head constructed from a user-taken selfie image. The selfie must be verified against the license photograph held on file so it appears that a collection of emojis would not be permissible! The Director of Iowa’s DOT Motor Vehicle Division, Mark Lowe, explained that the department organized the mDL scheme because of public interest in the technology. Although it’s not quite clear the exact outcome of the trial, it could be offered to more citizens in the coming year.

Mark detailed some of the improvements in having virtual driver’s licenses – it will provide instant updates to addresses and driving records, which should lead to shorter lines at the DMV. Over time it will reduce and could eventually remove the physical license, which will reduce costs for the State (although there are fairness and cost implications for those citizens who do not wish to transfer their license to a smartphone). It would also be another barrier to make it harder for fraudsters to commit their crimes: “We can provide more trust in transactions. There may be a revenue stream from that.” Mark is considering how merchants and financial institutions might see an electronic driver’s license as an easier way to verify identity or perhaps just age when ordering at a bar. One advantage is that customers won’t need to show so much personal information when verifying their age or identity.

Of course, there are disadvantages too – a lack of cellular data coverage could be a concern, and dead batteries certainly is. There are privacy concerns too: location tracking is a sniff away from installing a driver’s license on a smartphone, plus identity theft from security issues with the device operating system, the software concerned, or the user simply not using a lock code on his or her ‘phone. However, several states are interested in the mDL technology and we are aware that Delaware is launching a pilot later this year.