Digital Driver’s License: What it is and how to Authenticate

digital drivers license

Digital Driver’s License: What it is and how to Authenticate

With everything possible becoming digitized in the past few years it is no surprise that the next feature to be added to our smartphones is a digital driver’s license. Although the digital driver’s license is in its infancy, many states and jurisdictions are beginning to incorporate them into their protocol so they can be ready for this new addition. 

Digital forms of identification can lead to issues with security, privacy, and identity verification, fortunately, has ID scanners that can scan digital and physical driver’s licenses so that age and identity verification can still be reliably completed. We’ll take a look here at some more of those concerns as well as the logistics of a digital driver’s license. What is it exactly and how does it work? How can I get one?

What is a Digital Driver’s License?

A digital driver’s license is simply a digital copy of your existing driver’s license that can be stored on your phone via an app. This digital form is not meant to replace a physical license – it’s just a copy that you can have handy in case you forget your own or for the sake of convenience. However, as the technology and the protocols in cities and states develops, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a digital copy replace a physical one in the future. 

There are a handful of different companies making and promoting their version of a digital driver’s license so the functionality of the different apps is not all exactly the same, but the essentials are. The DMV works with the approved company, or companies, in a particular state to give them access to the database of driver’s license records. This means that when law enforcement or a vendor checks the ID, it’s compared to the larger database to make sure that the ID is real and has accurate information on it. 

Which scanners can scan digital driver’s licenses?

Most digital driver’s licenses utilize a 2D barcode (PDF417) which is the same symbology used on the physical license. So any scanner capable of scanning a 2D barcode will be able to read a mobile ID. However, scanners which use motors to ingest the ID only work with physical licenses. Below are 3 ideal scanner options for scanning digital driver’s licenses.

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How does enrollment work?

Enrollment procedures vary a bit state-by-state, but with permission from the DMV, any individual can access their driver’s license on their smartphone. Permission comes in the form of a formal application at the DMV along with a fee and/or by downloading whatever app the state recognizes and paying a fee. The app set-up includes protection by some sort of security feature such as a pin, fingerprint scan, or biometric authentication, depending on the company offering the digital driver’s license. 

Who is participating?

Different states are at different stages of acceptance of digital driver’s licenses. Many states haven’t gotten to the point of implementing digital DLs, but Tennessee, Florida, Colorado, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas, Utah, Arizona, Iowa, Delaware, Illinois, Arkansas, Maryland, Louisiana, and Washington D.C. have all either fully approved them or are in a pilot phase. In the pilot phase, acceptance by the general population, practicality, and real-time functionality are all tested and any kinks are ironed out. This way the digital version does not come in full force before testing the waters with a state’s own, particular needs.

Read our blog: Which states have digital driver’s licenses

Authenticating a Digital Driver’s License

In order to authenticate the document on a person’s smartphone, a scanner must be used. has ID scanners that can verify a variety of different forms of identification. Included among them is a digital driver’s license. The process is the same for a digital card as for a physical one and is simple for both the license holder and the agency scanning it. The scanner’s technology automatically performs identity verification by checking that the license is formatted correctly. It also checks that the information in the barcode matches what is displayed on the front of the license. It then queries the USPS database to confirm that the address on the ID exists. Because the digital driver’s license is connected to the state’s database and’s databases of IDs are robust, you can rest assured that the information has been verified accurately.

Law enforcement can scan digital driver’s licenses in traffic stops and in other situations to verify a person’s identity. TSA can scan them in a similar way for those going through airport security and boarding a flight. Bars, casinos, and vendors who sell age-restricted materials can scan the digital driver’s license for an easy read on the customer’s age which will pop up on the screen as either under or over 21.

The upsides to using a digital driver’s license are improved security (in many ways; more on that later), convenience, and reducing human error. A digital driver’s license is convenient because it can be simply accessed by the cardholder on their phone and it would leave fewer reasons for needing to go into a physical DMV office. Many updates and driver’s license renewals could be done mobily via the app which would mean no waiting in line at the DMV just to update your address. This is good for law enforcement and state benefits providers too who could have a better idea if the address listed on a person’s license is current. 

Human error is reduced because the app which contains the license and the scanner that scans it both have biometric security features which make these cards very difficult to spoof or fake. There wouldn’t be any question if the license was just a good fake or if the information listed was accurate because both computer systems and databases would verify the document.

Downsides of Digital Driver’s Licenses

There are a couple of logistical downsides, however. Not everyone has a smartphone and for digital copies to replace physical ones, we would have to be sure that it was an even playing field for all Americans or systemic inequities may creep in.

Secondly, the digital version of one state’s license would need to be accepted in every other state in the US. With each state having its own particular apps and needs, this could become complicated. Lastly, the licenses would have to be accepted in every store and venue, etc. Stores don’t even all accept the same forms of payment currently, so it seems unlikely that they will all accept digital driver’s licenses equally. These are a few reasons that we might not see digital driver’s licenses take over physical ones completely.

Security and Privacy 

Now we come to where most people’s concerns regarding digital driver’s licenses lie: security and privacy. Many wonder if storing personal information like a driver’s license on a cell phone is safe from threats such as hackers, thieves, and violations of the fourth amendment. Also, it seems to some that the digital version would be easy to fake. But, believe it or not, a digital card is actually more secure than a physical card in many ways. The companies producing these digital driver’s licenses are also taking precautions to make sure that the information is safe and not easily faked.

Depending on the app, the digital driver’s license is protected by either pin, fingerprint scan, or biometric verification, as we mentioned previously. Additionally, a few app-producing companies have included holographic style pictures for each license in their apps so that, if the license is real, the person’s face rotates slightly left and right when clicked on. This is done by putting profile and front-facing photos of the person together and animating them and is very hard to spoof.

If someone loses their phone and, thereby, their digital driver’s license, the DMV can remotely wipe out the license so that the personal information isn’t in someone else’s hands. When the person gets a new phone it can be remotely downloaded again. In that way it is more secure than a physical card that one might drop and another pick up for exploitation.

Lastly, most states that have implemented digital driver’s licenses have included fourth amendment rights protections for citizens so that showing a police officer the digital card on your phone does not automatically give them the right to search and seizure of the contents on that phone. In fact, you would only have to show a police officer your phone, not hand it to him for examination.  

International uses

The US is not the only country to implement digital driver’s licenses. In many Australian states they are not only implementing digital driver’s licenses, but they are also including IDs, learner’s permits, and car registrations into the same app for added convenience. Several other countries are either in the process of or have already made digital licenses a reality including Great Britain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Kosovo, Finland, Argentina, Thailand, Norway, South Korea, and Denmark.

Digital Driver’s licenses are slowly but surely making their way into everyday life and we all need to be prepared for the logistics of that. It’s important to be prepared to accept any state-approved form of identification and’s many ID scanners can scan digital licenses as well as physical ones. So give us a call to talk to one of our team members about how smoothly you can integrate our scanners into your business or agency.