Aug 95

Level of Govt: State

Function: Driver Licensing

Problem/situation: Getting a driver's license in Texas meant long lines and a 30- to 45-day wait.

Solution: Licenses produced by a digital imaging system.

Jurisdiction: Texas Department of Public Safety.

Vendors: Polaroid.

Contact: Phil Scarfo, Polaroid, 617/386-6228. Mike Spataro, Polaroid Electronic Imaging Systems, 617/386-3573.

AUSTIN, Texas - For 25 years Texas drivers have been getting their licenses the old-fashioned way. Residents would go to the local licensing bureau, fill out forms, have a picture taken - then wait 30 to 45 days to receive a new license in the mail.

But that's changing. The old Texas license will soon fade away to be replaced by one created electronically and mailed within a week.

Texas is replacing its film-based licenses with an all-electronic system from Polaroid Electronic Imaging Systems. "The new Texas licenses have three main benefits," said Col. James Wilson, director of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), the state agency responsible for driver licensing. "They are secure, they are nearly counterfeit-proof and they look great."


Texas is installing 378 workstations in 185 permanent license bureaus and another 72 workstations in rural mobile bureaus. Each workstation digitally captures and stores applicants' personal information, portrait, fingerprints and signature, then transfers the information to a local server.

Overnight, the server transmits the data to DPS headquarters in Austin, initiating a production process that will have licenses, renewals, updates and corrections in the driver's mailbox in five to seven days.

By the end of this year, when the transition to the new electronic system is complete, Polaroid's Texas Document Factory will be producing 20,000 licenses per day. In four years, 13 million drivers will be carrying the new licenses.

The front of the license has been redesigned and color-coded to be more readable and informative, with electronically captured full-color portraits that are larger, brighter and sharper than the old film photos. Because the captured portrait is displayed instantly on the workstation, the DPS agent can retake the photo, which eliminates the problem of closed eyes and awkward poses.

"When we first started looking into electronic imaging systems, we were concerned about image quality," said Judy Sibert, a Driver Records Service manager. "But Polaroid has managed to do so much more with the captured image."


Adult licenses have the portrait on the right side of the license, while portraits of those under 21 are on the left. Under-21 licenses also display the date the driver will turn 21, so an age can be checked without having to be calculated.

Because driver licenses are the most commonly requested form of photo identification, the DPS has expanded the new license's magnetic stripe information system, making it more functional and fully compatible with standard bank and identification card readers.

A standard magnetic stripe, which usually carries a single line of encoded data, is attached to the back of the license. The new Texas license carries three lines of data in the stripe, one of which is the driver's license number. This feature permits merchants, for example, to quickly and easily download into their electronic cash registers the driver's name, address and birthdate when accepting a personal check.

By checking that the electronic data matches the data on the front of the license, the merchant can confirm that the license hasn't been altered. By loading the data in the cash register, the merchant no longer has to manually copy the information for transactions using checks, saving time and eliminating transcription errors.

Eventually, Texas law enforcement officials expect to be able to download to police computers and mobile cruiser terminals all the data in

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