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The World Follows US Lead with Smart Card Enhanced Drivers Licenses

If a technology is worth using, you can be sure that the USA will take the lead in its adoption, and that’s certainly true of RFID smart cards. It’s been nearly a decade since the state of New York issued the country’s first smart card drivers’ license and, since then, they’ve been launched all over the world. From Canada to Kenya, smart card technology is now enabling government agencies to run their services in ever more efficient and effective ways.

Smart card drivers’ licenses, known as ‘Enhanced Drivers’ Licenses’ or EDLs, contain an RFID chip that agencies use to access personal details about the carrier. This includes information that accurately identifies the carrier, such as biometric data (a photo for facial recognition in the US), name, address, date of birth, etc., and other stored records: drivers’ license details, vehicle ownership, and police records.

The smart card itself does not store the data, that is stored in a highly secure, national database. Instead, the card carries a unique reference number which can be used by government agencies to access the database. This means that if the card is lost or stolen the personal information of the individual is still secure. It also means the license cannot be copied or forged.

The introduction of the EDL has made things much easier for government agencies. If a driver is pulled over by police, for example, a swipe of the card will instantly show if they are who they claim to be, whether they are licensed for that vehicle and if the vehicle is owned by the driver. It also means that any on the spot driving tickets can be added to the license at the scene.

One of the big advantages of the US EDL is that it also doubles as a valid ID and can be used to prove identity and U.S. citizenship. This means it can be used by US citizens as a passport when traveling to countries participating in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Provided you enter and leave the country via a land or sea border, you won’t need to carry any other form of identification. (You’ll still need a proper passport if you fly.) This means you can use your drivers’ license to drive to Canada, Mexico and sail to most of the Caribbean states.

EDL’s are not yet available throughout the USA, mainly because those who need them tend to live in border states; for this reason, it is places like Washington, Vermont, and Michigan that have issued them.  

It’s not only the USA, however, that has begun to see the benefits of smart card drivers’ licenses. Canada followed suit shortly after the US and they can now be found across the globe in countries like Kenya, Ghana, and India.

In Kenya, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) began issuing smart card driving licenses in June 2017 in an effort to curb the number of rogue, unlicensed drivers on the country’s roads. Unlike the US, all Kenyan motorists will be required obtain the new license and in doing so, will need to provide a passport size photo, their fingerprints, and signature which will be added to their records on the national database. According to the NTSA’s Director of Road Safety, Njeri Waithaka, this will make it easier to “monitor every motorist and crack down on drivers who do not obey traffic rules.”

Ghana, like the US, is also developing a dual purpose EDL. There, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) is developing a joint driving license and vehicle registration smart card to eradicate the number of forged driving licenses in circulation. According to the Ghanaian DVLA, this will verify whether a person who uses a driving license really is who they claim to be because the biometric data is unique to each individual.

India also had an issue with fake licenses and used smart cards as a solution. They put a stop to forgery by requiring biometric data to be given during the application process, making it impossible to issue a license without the applicant being present.

Smart cards brought India other benefits too. As the payment of fines became automated and transparent, it meant that corrupt police couldn’t fine motorists and pocket the money for themselves. They also cut down on the many Indian touts who charged applicants to apply for licenses on their behalf - an unofficial service that sprung up because people were fed up of waiting in the long queues at Indian regional transport offices. The new system, thankfully, has managed to speed up what was a very slow, manual process.

Wrapping up

There is a lot to be said for smart card drivers’ licenses. They enable government agencies to carry out their work more effectively and, in doing so, make the world’s roads safer for all of us. In the US, they also make life much easier for travelers and protect our borders from those wanting to enter the country illegally.

This technology, however, isn’t limited for use as driving licenses. Smart cards, such as those supplied by Universal Smart Cards, are used for a wide variety of purposes, including membership and loyalty cards, cashless payments cards and for access control.

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