Last update: 05 January 2021
The world is evolving rapidly towards mobile and digital formats for many everyday tasks.
Key drivers for this trend are convenience and ease of use for transactions that require some form of identification. And one of the most used documents to confirm identity is looking at going down this route - the driver's license.
The primary goals of the driving license, whether physical or digital, remain to confirm the identity and to confer the right to drive a vehicle.
During the last two years, studies and pilots have been launched in several states in the US to explore the technical feasibility of a digital driver's license.
There, digital driver's licenses, also named mobile driver's licenses, are set to retain the key visual aspects of a physical driver's license, displaying the driver's personal information - name, address, and date of birth, along with his photo.
Various technologies are considered to address, but security and user-friendliness will be key drivers.
The topic is now receiving even more federal attention.
In August 2016, the US Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded a grant to support further the development of trusted identities based on Digital Driver's License provided by states.
Through a $2M grant awarded to Thales, four jurisdictions – Idaho, Colorado, Maryland, and Washington DC – are implementing a pilot for a secure Digital Driver's License (DDL), which many believe to be the future of trusted identities. In 2017, Wyoming decided to join the pilot.
Discover in detail and pictures the July 2017 DDL pilot in Colorado.
There are striking similarities in challenges and potential benefits with what is called a "national eID scheme" in many other countries where states are including digital identity as a defining feature in a digital space of trust, with proper levels of security, interoperability, and data protection.
The convenience of the mobile format – potential new identification use cases
Beyond the critical security aspects, issuing authorities have shown particular interest in the universal convenience of this mobile format:
- Convenience for holders, who can travel lighter with a digital driver's license, instantly updatable, on their phone.
- Convenience for law enforcement or other parties wanting to verify identity and privileges.
- Convenience for issuing authorities who can explore new services needing such a trusted and secure channel for sharing and validating identity.
The driver's license has been a standard for decades, acting not just as proof that you can drive but as an ID to verify age and identity, opening mobile driver's license to many usages such as:
- Police control: roadside stops to identify the driver of a vehicle and his/her privileges.
- Proof of age: where the purchase of alcohol, as in many countries, is restricted to people aged 18 or more, verified by the retailer.
- Car rental: to identify the renter, ensure driving privileges, and share attributes (address…etc. )
- Identity validation or confirmation for hotel check-in, financial institutions, social services...
- Online authentication: from access control to identity verification…
Digital driver's license - The 2016-2020 US landscape
What states have a digital driver's license?
Iowa was the first state to decide to test a digital driver's license in 2014.
It started a pilot on an IOS platform with 100 state employees at the end of 2015. The goal was to test the daily usability of the solution.
The Department of Transportation hopes to make the app public in 2020 (initially planned for 2019).
Several legislatures (the legislative body of States in the United States) authorize the study of smartphone driver's license app such as Arizona, Illinois, Utah, and Texas, to name a few.
Some other states have legislation under consideration. Idaho, Colorado, Maryland, and Washington DC are now on their way to set up a pilot funded by a federal grant.
- In Tennessee, legislation (HB556) enacted on 20 May 2015, authorizes the State DMV to develop a secure "electronic driver license system" and to display electronic images on a cellular phone or any other portable electronic device.
- In Arizona, the Senate Bill 1237 bill was passed and signed on 11 May 2016. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has to study and specify what may be done with an electronic driver's license.
- In Utah, Bill 227, effective in May 2016, requires the Driver License Division and Department of Technology Services to study and report findings and recommendations regarding electronic driver licenses.
- In Louisiana, Bill 481 was signed by Governor Edwards on 23 June 2016. The law outlines requirements for a digitized driver's license. It allows persons to use the digitized license alternately of a physical license when stopped by law enforcement. The proposed law provides that the display of the digital driver's license shall not serve as consent to search the mobile device. An App named La Wallet is available as of July 2018 for iOS and Android devices for $5.99.
- Kentucky was considering the topic as well, but the feasibility study has not been launched as the measure did not receive a hearing.
- In California, the state legislature passed a bill (February – September 2015) to study the feasibility of a digital mobile driver's license app for a smartphone. It was, however, vetoed by Governor of California Jerry Brown in October 2015.
- In New Jersey, the bill introduced in January 2016 has been withdrawn from consideration in February 2016.
- In Illinois, the Legislature approved a resolution in 2015 that created an Electronic Driver's License Task Force to study the feasibility of a digital/mobile DL. The Task Force reported its findings on 21 April 2016. It recommended that the Secretary of State continue to monitor advancements in mobile driver's license technology.
- In March 2015, North Dakota passed HCR 3036, a bill to study the implications of driver's licenses for smartphones. However, the measure has not been considered as of October 2016 by Legislative Management.
- In August 2016, through a $2M grant awarded to Thales, Idaho, Colorado, Maryland, and Washington DC were to set a pilot for a secure Digital Driver's License (DDL). Its goals are to define and create a convenient and secure way for citizens and authenticating parties to exchange and verify government-issued credential information via smartphone.
- In 2017 Wyoming joined this initiative.
- On 21 March 2017, in Arkansas, Senate Bill 428 was signed into law and is allowing the Office of Driver Services to issue a digital copy of an Arkansas driver’s license for a $10 fee.
- In July 2017, Colorado and Maryland started a live pilot. Follow the progress of the DDL pilot on our dedicated pages. September 2017 was dedicated to full pilot analysis, conclusion, lessons learned, best practices.
- In November 2017, Wyoming started a live pilot in Cheyenne. Follow the latest news on Phase II on our notes from the field.
- In April 2019, Texas (The House of Representatives HB 181) initiated a digital identification pilot program. The intention is to have a secondary source that’s not necessarily replacing the physical card.
- Oklahoma introduced its electronic driver's license at the end of 2019.
- On 28 August 2019, bill 454 proposes the introduction of an electronic driver's license in Michigan. The bill was referred to the committee of transportation and infrastructure.
- In November 2019, Colorado launched its Digital ID, according to the Wall Street Journal. The myColorado app has been downloaded 75,000 times as of 2 December 2020.
- In October 2020, Florida, working with Thales, announced that its mobile digital driver's license will be available in 2021.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Working Group is looking at DDL standards and their specifications.
Visit The AAMVA page dedicated to Mobile Driver's License (mDL).
Digital driver's license as Real ID
The legal environment is also positively impacted by the famous Riley v. California case of September 2014. The United States Supreme Court ruled that Police may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a mobile phone seized from an individual during an arrest.
This decision makes it easier for states to implement DDL solutions since the court is clear: Police cannot arbitrarily search phones.
The 21 December 2020 bill voted by congress is also explicit: (page 423): The presentation of information from a mobile of digital driver's license does not grant access to information stored on the mobile phone, nor can it be seized by authorities.
The same text specifies (page 422) that non-physical versions of driving licenses will be considered valid when Real ID enforcement starts (1 October 2021 according to DHS).
Of course, digital driver's licenses have to be issued in accordance with regulations.
Moreover, according to Allstate Corporation, one of the largest insurance providers in the United States,49 states permit drivers to use an electronic copy of their insurance card during a traffic stop as of November 2020.
Other initiatives around the world
In Australia, New South Wales announced in November 2015 the introduction for 2016 of digital driving licenses on smartphones. In February 2016, the press revealed that Victoria is also analyzing technology to produce a digital driver's license app in the next few months. Western Australia State announced a plan to turn driver's licenses into digital IDs in April 2016.
New South Wales' Premier Mike Baird promised to introduce the digital license within four years. However, a lot of co-operation will be needed to set up a practical multi-jurisdictional approach in the country.
In November 2016, NSW's Minister for Finance, Services and Property Dominic Perrottet said that digital driver licenses would be introduced by 2019. A pilot in Dubbo started in November 2017.
The DDL, to be introduced in September 2019, has been delayed.
South Australia launched its DDL at the end of 2017 and, in September 2019, the Queensland government announced a trial of digital licenses. The test is set to start in 2020 in Fraser Coast.
The digital license app could integrate other digitized documents, including learner licenses, photo ID cards, and vehicle registration. The mobile app could also serve as a key to electronic government services in the future according to IT news of 8 January 2020.
- In October 2016, senior officials at the Dutch road transport authority had made it clear that the country is working on a mobile app version of the license that would accompany a card.
- In May 2016, Britain's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) revealed it was also working on a digital driving license for smartphones. DVLA showed a "prototype" of a feature that would let people store their licenses on their phones and turn the driver's iPhone into an ID. According to the Daily Mail of 31 March 2017, the Agency will test the system this September and plan a roll-out for spring 2018. The existing UK driving licence will still be available.
- In July 2017, CONTRAN, the Brazilian National Traffic Board, approved a proposition for a digital driver's license to be launched in 2018.
- In February 2018, Finland's Transport and Safety Agency revealed that after a successful test, it would roll out a free digital driver's license by the end of summer. The DDL app is not a replacement for the existing document but a supplement for now.
- At the end of February 2018, Kosovo announced that it would be the first country in the world to roll out a mobile driver's license countrywide.
- Brazil made DDL available in April 2018.
- In February 2019, Argentina made driving licenses digital.
- Norway made its new digital driving license app available on 1 October 2019.
- In Thailand, digital driver's licenses are legal starting in September 2019.
- In October 2019, South Korea announced that it would make its digital driver's licenses available in Q1 2020. According to the Korea Herald of 12 August 2020, over 1 million drivers are using the digital driver’s license app.
- In November 2020, Denmark launched its driving license App. The driver's license is the first ID proof to become digital in the country. The Danish health card will also get a digital version in 2021.
Other countries are investigating this option.
DDL standards progressing
As of today, the market is at an early stage, and standards are not fully defined. In 2016, the ISO SC17 WG10 - Task Force 14 "Mobile Driving Licence" started to work on verification standards for Mobile DL and set the scope of offline verification.
Early December 2017, Thales shared its results from the first phase of pilot activity with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) technical committee in a meeting in Vienna.
The company brought its contribution to the formation of standards modeling in the future.
Data minimization and privacy protection were hot topics covered in session discussions.
More on the ISO 18013-5 (“Personal Identification – ISO-Compliant Driving Licence – Part 5: Mobile Driving Licence Application” be found here.
ISO 18013 is the standard for driver’s licenses, and Part 5 is to specify the technical requirements for mobile driver’s licenses.
Interoperability tests have been organized in Japan in October 2018, in the USA in August 2019, and in Australia in November 2019.
Four key requirements
The mobile driver's license needs to address four essential requirements to gain acceptance as a trusted digital identity.
It needs to be :
- accessible in both online and offline modes,
- highly secure to protect the confidentiality and privacy of user data,
- interoperable between different issuing and verifying authorities,
- able to manage the integrity of data throughout its life cycle - from enrolment to the in-field verification process.
For the time being, mobile driving licenses will not replace physical driver's licenses but will exist as a secondary form of ID to complement these physical driver's licenses.
Technologies and implementation models from Thales
In September 2015, Thales conducted an extensive study with an online consumer community, gathering 200 members from the United Kingdom and the United States. The direct feedback from potential users of the digital driver's license solution revealed the benefits, concerns, and diversity of audiences. These results allowed the company to set up relevant implementation models.
Thales Mobile DL solutions bring technology, and implementation models that take into account user-friendliness, the local DL schemes and practices (drivers, Police, service providers…), and provide the highest level of security in both credential storage, data transmission, and verification.
What's the story here?
Not only does a digital credential bring new layers of security, such as a PIN or fingerprint verification, but it is also much more difficult to fraudulently duplicate or alter.
Because it is checked with the issuer backend in real-time, a fraudulent credential can quickly and easily be identified as invalid, to make verifying even out-of-state digital credentials significantly more straightforward and more secure.
If a user's mobile device is ever lost or stolen, the digital license can be remotely deactivated or wiped almost instantly.
Unlike a traditional driver's license card, a mobile driver's license never needs to leave the owner's hands. A person verifying the driving license in the field will have access to advanced real-time authentication through another version of the application on an authentication device – either another smartphone or a reader.
No footprint is left on the verification device, and no geo-location tagging or tracking of user information occurs.
With a digital driver's license, an issuer can have much greater control over in-use credentials compared to a traditional physical license - for example, alerting holders when their license is about to expire.
Citizens could also update their personal information or even renew their licenses directly through the application instead of visiting a branch office, saving time and resources.
Control and convenience will prove essential elements for issuers and users on the road to mobile driver's licenses.
This form of digital credential could enable a new, more efficient, and more secure way of authenticating a person and their entitlement for a range of personal identification usages.
Thales' digital ID Wallet
Thales' Digital ID Wallet is the next generation of Mobile-ID.
It brings the physical and digital credentials together and creates a secure, smartphone-based home for all the owner's digital identity credentials.
Discover more about our solution in this video.
More about Thales
In the public sector, Thales provides secure documents, robust identity solutions, and services for governments, national printers, and integrators in the service of citizens. Its products and solutions are deployed in more than 200 government programs worldwide.
The company is active in numerous driving license and vehicle registration projects.
They include the UK, the Netherlands, France, India, Mexico, Morocco, the States of Alaska, Maryland, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Idaho, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, West Virginia, Wyoming, Quebec to name a few.
Our contribution to these projects provides us with an excellent overview of the technology involved, its applications, and the quality of information systems, as well as the context of its use.
Furthermore, our experts have provided support for national debates on how to improve systems, in particular, to fight fraud.
Finally, Thales is an active collaborator in European and global standardization.