APU Cyber & AI Original

The Pros and Cons of Adopting Digital Driver’s Licenses

By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics

In the past, I’ve often had to turn around and return home when I forgot my phone. I’d rather be late for an event than to be without my cell phone for a prolonged period of time.

My phone is literally my personal assistant, thanks to technology. It has more information in it than my wallet; it contains my phone numbers, calendar, global positioning satellite (GPS) location, social media platforms and a slew of apps that I’ve learned to depend on.

In the future, we may find ourselves depending on a new form of identity: digital driver’s licenses. A digital driver’s license means that your ID is always on your phone and easily accessible when needed. However, with any new technology, there are the ethics, benefits and potential challenges to consider.

What Are Digital Driver’s Licenses?

Digital driver’s licenses are essentially the same as standard driver’s licenses, except that you can access its information using a smartphone app. Information that was previously available only on a card that a driver carried in a wallet can now travel with that person electronically.

Digital driver’s licenses are the latest in digital technology. At least 17 states now support digital licenses:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

For now, there is a phased approach for the states that are implementing digital driver’s licenses. In addition, a handful of states have been testing this new technology for the past couple of years.

How to Set Up a Digital Driver’s License

Using an app that is approved by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), setting up a digital driver’s license includes these steps:

  1. Download the app.
  2. Scan your face (for verification purposes) with your phone’s camera.
  3. Take a picture of the front and back of your driver’s license.
  4. Upload the picture.
  5. Verify your phone, email and home address.
  6. Set passwords and security questions.

Digital driver’s licenses are better protected against fraud. They are more difficult to copy because the image that will be uploaded in the app is converted to a 3-D holographic image.

What Are the Cons of Digital Driver’s Licenses?

Opponents to digital driver’s licenses question their validity and trustworthiness, which could lead to ethical consequences. There are several concerns when it comes to digital technology. For starters, what happens if you lose your cell phone or your cell phone loses power? Weak cybersecurity technology could make your data accessible to hackers and thieves.

In response to this concern, the app used by most states requires two-step verification, so an authorized user must complete two steps to successfully authenticate the information. It’s an added level of security that makes a digital driver’s license only accessible to the cell phone user and harder for hackers to access. The two-step verification required by the app works in conjunction with the encryption software already installed on your phone.

There are also concerns that scanners will be able to access multiple information on your phone. However, the driver’s license app only allows access to the information that is found on a standard license.

In addition, some apps that are being tested now allow you to show limited information. For example, you may be asked to verify your age at a bar when you’re purchasing alcohol, which can be done without you showing your physical address to a server or bartender.

There are also privacy questions that need to be answered in regard to adopting digital driver’s licenses. For example, people will still need to be a part of the equation in addition to using scanners to ensure there are no fraudulent licenses.

Another consideration is whether you have to physically turn over your phone for someone to verify your digital driver’s license. That person could accidentally access additional information. In most cases, the phone’s owner would hold the phone at all times and either run it past a scanner or hold it up so another person can see the information.

Likewise, some people are concerned that the information stored on a digital driver’s license can later be used against them. However, the app’s daily usage is neither tracked or stored.

In addition, the driver’s license can be accessed without using Wi-Fi or the internet, which means there is no information that can be transferred. Testing is still needed to make digital driver’s licenses a uniform reality for all 50 states. As this testing continues, we must ensure there are multiple layers of security to verify that the license has been created by a verifiable Department of Motor Vehicles.

Related link: How Soon Will We Be Moving Around in AI-Enabled Vehicles?

What Are the Benefits of Digital Driver’s Licenses?

There are many services that once relied on a piece of plastic or cardboard but are now electronic for the convenience of users. For instance, electronic identity credentials have become a hot topic, especially with the development of vaccine card apps.

Similarly, e-wallets help you pay for items in a similar fashion to a debit card or credit card, and access to concert and sport venues is mainly electronic now. If you’ve boarded a plane lately, chances are high that you used a phone app to show your boarding ticket. Subway and bus stations can be accessed by swiping a phone over a sensor as opposed to purchasing a paper or plastic card. Loyalty cards can be accessed using an app.

Safety and security are other benefits to using digital driver’s licenses. Thanks to the technology in the app, it’s harder to hack a phone than a standard driver’s license.

If you lose your conventional driver’s license, for instance, all of your information is available to the thief. But if you have a password-protected phone with a digital driver’s license, it is very unlikely that someone will be able to access this information due to the use of facial recognition technology and the inability to guess your password.

There are many people who are advocates of the move from plastic or paper licenses to digital driver’s licenses; however, uniformity will be key. If all states adopt the same smartphone app, digital driver’s licenses could be accessible by many organizations that could use your information, such as law enforcement agencies, hospitals, airports, and even bars and restaurants. Uniform scanners will be required, so that the information stored on your smartphone can be accessed by using any scanner to read the information on your phone.

The digital driver’s license technology also allows you to make updates electronically, instead of physically going to your local DMV office and waiting in line. Also, your information can be immediately updated on your phone, so you don’t have to wait weeks for your new license to be mailed to you. Likewise, if your license is suspended, the digital license can display this information to law enforcement officers.

Related link: Truck Driver Shortages Have Increased Supply Chain Problems

Marketing and Training Will Be Required

In order to successfully implement digital driver’s licenses in all 50 states, the key will be marketing and training. Both users and vendors will need to be trained on how to use digital driver’s licenses and how to identify fake licenses.

Also, the technology must be easy enough for drivers 16 and older to use. Drivers will also need to be able to identify potential hacking schemes to avoid providing access to their licenses’ information to third parties.

Overall, the feedback thus far on digital driver’s licenses has been positive. It’s a huge benefit to states and enhances their ability to provide customer service. For drivers, a digital driver’s license offers additional flexibility and faster automated updates, which ultimately saves them time and money.

Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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