Michigan's vertical driver's license program has been in place for five years this month, and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and other safety officials are calling it a success.

The Vertical Identification Program, implemented in July 2003, helps to prevent minors from purchasing alcohol, tobacco and other age-restricted products. The Secretary of State's Office issues driver's licenses and ID cards in a vertical format to residents under 21 because the design provides an instant visual cue for law enforcement and retailers due to its stark contrast to the horizontal licenses used by people 21 and older.

"The vertical ID program is doing its part to help teens avoid the enormous risks that come from alcohol and tobacco use," Land said. "Its success is due to broad support from parents, policymakers, safety advocates, retailers and law enforcement. I applaud their commitment to protect Michigan's teens and families."

Everyone under 21 who has a driver's license or I.D. card now has them in the vertical format. The state has been replacing horizontal licenses with the vertical ones when minors apply for a license renewal or replacement. More than 731,000 of Michigan's 8.1 million driver's licenses and I.D. cards are in vertical format.

One indicator of the program's success is the steady decline in convictions under Michigan's "zero tolerance" law. The law prohibits underage drivers from having any alcohol in their systems. In 2004, the first full year of the vertical license program, there were nearly 1,700 convictions. The number has fallen each year to about 1,340 in 2007.

The program has proven to be a valuable tool in law enforcement's efforts to protect teens and keep roads safe, according to the Michigan Sheriffs' Association (MSA), one of the initiative's original supporters.

"The great part about this program is that it's quantifiable," said Terrence L. Jungel, MSA executive director. "Prevention is often difficult to measure, but with this issue, it's all in the data. We know we have saved lives, and not just the teen drivers. We have also protected the motoring public who share the roadway with our teens."

The vertical license clearly lists the dates when the license-holder turns ages 18 and 21, and includes other security features such as the date of birth that overlaps a second photo of the license-holder, or "ghost" image, to prevent tampering with the date of birth.

Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington are among the more than 20 states that issue vertical driver's licenses to drivers under 21.