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Drivers’ licenses hit high-tech road

Digital photographs make Utah licenses harder to duplicate

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Utah's driver license division is going digital.

All DMV offices in Utah will go from using Polaroid instant cameras with film cards to digital cameras, and all driver's license information will be kept on file electronically.

A new driver's license with built-in security features will be more difficult to duplicate or manipulate, according to Judy Hamaker-Mann, director of the driver license division of the Department of Public Safety.

The license will make its debut by mid-September or early October, and the old license will be phased out within the next five years.

Hamaker-Mann said the new digitized system allows for increased security features and brings the state up to speed in terms of technology.

"(The security features) are similar to the new dollar bills," Hamaker-Mann said.

Like the new dollar bills, a Utah driver's license will be difficult to duplicate. Two photos of the driver will grace the front of the license, one a smaller photo with writing on it in the upper right corner of the license.

The digital photos on the cards are kept on file with the DMV and can be used for identification purposes when a replacement ID is needed.

A bar code on the back of the license has all license information encrypted in it.

Another security feature is designed to discourage people from giving false addresses. An individual can't fill out an application and walk out of the DMV with a license the same day. Instead, he will be given a temporary license and the actual license will be mailed in 10 days to the address he provided. If the address is wrong, the card will be returned to the DMV, not forwarded by the Postal Service.

But an increase in security wasn't the only reason the state decided to change its ways. Times are changing.

Hamaker-Mann said the cameras being used to take driver's license photos were old — the last of a breed. The new digitized system allows the DMV to keep all Utah driver photos and information on file.

The new driver's licenses will be distributed through a central issue system based in Minnesota, at a division of Polaroid, which serves several other states. The photos and other information will be sent electronically from Utah DMVs to the Minnesota division of Polaroid.

The cost to produce licenses will go up with this new technology from about $1.60 per license to $2.20. That increase, along with the cost to distribute licenses through the mail, has been taken care of legislatively and by an increase in driver's license fees in 1999 from $15 to $20 for an original-issue license.

Those with the old driver's license will be able to hold on to it until it expires, but the old will eventually be phased out to make way for the new. Within five years, all Utah drivers will carry the new licenses.

E-MAIL: lculler@desnews.com