Last update: 07 April 2021
Mobile and digital technology use in today’s world is ever-evolving but rapidly becoming relied upon for many everyday tasks.
Safety, convenience, and ease of use are key drivers for this trend, especially for transactions requiring identification. And one of the most used documents to confirm identity and proof of age is now going mobile - 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 few years, studies and pilots have been conducted in several states in the US to explore the technical feasibility of a digital driver's license.
Digital driver's licenses, also called mobile driver's licenses, were developed and tested to ensure proper security protocols were incorporated for advanced digital security alongside a convenient user experience.
While early pilots retained 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, new standards are now used that allows the user to control what information is shared and displayed in each situation. These standards provide strengthened privacy settings to ensure personal information is kept private.
More about our mobile driver's license pilot.
In August 2016, the US Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded a $2M grant to Thales to support the development of a smartphone-based mobile driver’s license to provide citizens a secure companion to their physical permit or ID card.
Through this grant, four jurisdictions – Colorado, Maryland, Wyoming, and Washington DC – participated in a multi-jurisdiction pilot for a secure mobile driver's license, the first of its kind in the United States. The pilots included several scenarios using the mobile driver's license for airport security, Driver Motor Vehicle (DMV) enrollment, age verification, and law enforcement verification, all received extremely well by all parties involved.
With hundreds of participants across these four jurisdictions, we learned first-hand that citizens are ready for this technology and want to use it. Our pilot findings showed that:
while 4 in 5 liked not having to hand over a physical license.
Discover the July 2017 mobile driver's License pilot in Colorado in detail and pictures.
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 mobile 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:
- Law enforcement: traffic stops to identify the driver of a vehicle and their driving privileges.
- Proof of age: where the purchase of age-restricted products, like alcohol, is to be verified by the retailer selling those products.
- Car rental: to identify the renter, ensure their driving privileges, and share the required attributes for the rental contract (name, 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 2014-2021 US landscape
What states have a mobile driver's license?
Several states have passed legislation for or authorized the study of, <strong>smartphone driver's license apps</strong>. Some highlights are shown in the timeline below:
- Iowa was the first state to test a mobile driver's license. It started a pilot on an IOS platform with 100 state employees at the end of 2015, aiming to test the solution's daily usability. The Department of Transportation hopes to make the app public later this year (it was initially planned for 2019).
- In Tennessee, legislation (HB556) enacted on 20 May 2015 authorizes the State DMV to develop a secure "electronic driver license system" and display electronic images on a cellular phone or any other portable device. Currently soliciting information for a potential Tennessee mDL program through a Request For Proposal (RFP) issued on 14 December 2020.
- Kentucky also considered the topic, but a feasibility study was not 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, which was, however, vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2015.
- In Illinois, the state legislature approved a resolution in 2015 that created an Electronic Driver's License Task Force to study the feasibility of a mobile driver's License. The Task Force reported its findings on 21 April 2016, recommending that the Secretary of State continue to monitor advancements in mobile driver's license technology.
- North Dakota passed HCR 3036 in March 2015 to study the implications of smartphone driver's licenses. However, the measure has not been considered as of October 2016 by Legislative Management.
- In Arizona, Senate Bill 1237 was passed and signed on 11 May 2016. Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to study and specify what may be done with an electronic driver's license. It eventually launched its DDL in March 2021.
- 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.
Expected to begin a mobile driver's license pilot in early 2021.
- In Louisiana, Bill 481 was signed by Governor Edwards on 23 June 2016. The law outlines requirements for a digitized driver's license and allows persons to use the digitized permit instead of a physical license when stopped by law enforcement; it also 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.
- In New Jersey, a bill introduced in January 2016 was withdrawn from consideration in February 2016.
- In August 2016, Thales was awarded a grant by NIST (for the multi-jurisdiction pilot described above) with four jurisdictions 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 Arkansas, Senate Bill 428 was signed into law on 21 March 2017, allowing the Office of Driver Services to issue a digital copy of an Arkansas driver’s license for a $10 fee.
- Thales multi-jurisdiction pilots began going live in Colorado and Maryland (July 2017), followed by Wyoming (November 2017). September 2017 was dedicated to a full pilot analysis, conclusion, lessons learned, and best practices. More information can be found on our notes from the field-dedicated pages.
- Texas initiated a digital identification pilot program in April 2019 through House of Representatives HB 181. The intention is to have a secondary source that does not necessarily replace the physical card.
- Oklahoma introduced its electronic driver's license at the end of 2019.
- In Michigan, Bill 454 proposes the introduction of an electronic driver's license on 28 August 2019. The bill was referred to the Committee of Transportation and Infrastructure.
- According to the Wall Street Journal, Colorado launched its Digital ID in November 2019. The myColorado app has been downloaded 75,000 times as of 2 December 2020.
- Florida announced that its mobile driver's license will be available in 2021. The Florida mobile driver's license from Thales will begin a pilot in early 2021.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Working Group is looking at mDL standards and their specifications.
Visit the AAMVA page dedicated to Mobile Driver's License (mDL).
Mobile driver's license as Real ID
The famous Riley v. California case of September 2014 also positively impacts the legal environment. 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 mDL 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 or digital driver's license does not grant access to data stored on the mobile phone, nor can authorities seize it.
The same text specifies (page 422) that non-physical driving license versions will be considered valid when Real ID enforcement starts (1 October 2021, according to DHS).
Of course, mobile driver's licenses must be issued per 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 mDL, to be introduced in September 2019, has been delayed.
South Australia launched its mDL 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 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 October 2016, senior officials at the Dutch road transport authority clarified that the country is working on a mobile app version of the license that would accompany a card.
- In July 2017, CONTRAN, the Brazilian National Traffic Board, approved a proposition for launching a digital driver's license in 2018. Brazil made DDL available in April 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.
- In February 2019, Argentina made driving licenses digital.
- In Thailand, digital driver's licenses are legal starting in September 2019.
- Norway made its new digital driving license app available on 1 October 2019.
- In October 2019, South Korea announced 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 use 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.
mDL standards progressing
As of today, the mobile driver's license market is at an early stage, and current standards are being finalized. In 2016, the ISO SC17 WG10 - Task Force 14 "Mobile Driving License" started to work on verification standards for Mobile DL and set the scope of offline verification.
In 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 License – Part 5: Mobile Driving License 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 were organized in Japan in October 2018, the USA in August 2019, and Australia in November 2019.
Four key requirements
The mobile driver's license must 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 data integrity throughout its life cycle - from enrollment to the in-field verification process.
For now, 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
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 mobile driver's license solution revealed the benefits, concerns, and diversity of audiences.
These results allowed the company to set up relevant implementation models.
Thales mDL solutions bring technology and implementation models that consider user-friendliness, the local driver license schemes and practices (drivers, Law Enforcement, retail & online service providers…), and provide the highest level of security in credentials storage, data transmission, and verification.
What's the story here?
Not only does a digital mDL 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's backend in real-time, a fraudulent credential can quickly and easily be identified as invalid, making 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 mobile driver's 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 a companion 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 mobile 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 digital credential could enable a new, more efficient, and more secure way of authenticating a person and their entitlement for various personal identification usages.
Thales' digital ID Wallet
Thales' Digital ID Wallet is the next generation of Mobile ID and can seamlessly incorporate a mobile driver's license and other digital identity credentials.
It brings the physical and digital credentials together and creates a secure, smartphone-based home for all the owner's digital identity credentials.
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, Idaho, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas, Wyoming, the Provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland/Labrador, and Prince Edward Island to name a few.
Our contribution to these projects provides us with an excellent overview of the technology involved, its applications, the quality of information systems, and the context of its use.
Furthermore, our experts have supported national debates on how to improve systems, particularly to fight fraud.
Finally, Thales is an active collaborator in European and global standardization.
- Getting down to brass tacks with DDL
- Thales achieves the highest level of the international security standard 'Common Criteria' for their mobile ID software solutions.
- Youtube Link: Demonstration of Wyoming's digital driver's license pilot