During the last two years, studies have been launched in several US states to explore the technical feasibility of a digital driver’s license (DDL). In the second half of 2017, extensive pilots were conducted in several US states, the results of which Eric Billiaert shares in this article. He also gives an overview of the different DDL initiatives in the US and around the world, and will show why a DDL is far less susceptible to fraud than a typical physical driver’s license.

Two-year development grant

In the US, besides conferring the right to drive a vehicle, a driver’s license (DL) has become the standard photo ID, used to confirm someone’s age and identity. As the world is evolving rapidly towards mobile and digital formats for many everyday tasks, during the last two years studies were launched in several US states to explore the technical feasibility of a digital driver’s license. In August 2016, Gemalto received a two-year grant from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to pilot the development of a smartphone-based credential in the states of Idaho, Colorado, Maryland and Washington D.C. In 2017, Wyoming decided to join the pilot.

The digital or mobile driver’s license (DDL) is a secure version of a physical DL stored on a smartphone in the form of an app. The DDL is set to retain the key visual aspects of a physical DL, displaying the driver’s personal information: name, address and date of birth, along with their photo.

It will be used as a companion to supplement existing licensing and identification documents. It has been designed to be as user-friendly as possible (see Figure 1), while allowing for a comprehensive and secure ecosystem that grants users access to a variety of services and solutions.CA_21090_fig1

Figure 1: How to get a DDL on your mobile phone.

Multistate pilot

In the United States, the four states of Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, Washington D.C. and now Wyoming are piloting the concept of a digital driver’s license (DDL). The goal is to create and implement a solution that taps into the ubiquity and large-scale adoption of the smartphone to deliver a secure identity verification tool, with multiple applications and use cases.CA_21090_fig2

Figure 2: The scenarios in which the DDL was tested.

The pilot consists of two phases. Phase 1 ran for one year in four different scenarios (see Figure 2) and addressed three primary main use cases:


updates to the document while in the field

law enforcement

The researchers also found that many use cases  for the DDL presented themselves throughout the trial that nobody had originally considered.

Phase 2 commenced in December 2017, and focuses on extending the use case application, and on ‘attribute sharing’ with third party providers.

Results of pilot phase 1

The first phase of the pilot ran for one year.[1] Uptake was anticipated to be primarily embraced by the millennial driver, but the results were surprising. The demographic most interested in the program and reaping the inherent rewards was not the millennial generation, but rather Generation X, aged 45 to 54. This age group showed 95% interest in using the DDL, while the millennials showed 86% interest – the average of all age groups.

The situations in which participants were most likely to use the DDL were varied and interesting: 71% for airports and travel, 62% for hotel reservations, 44% for purchasing alcohol, 43% for age-restricted venues and 41% for the doctor or the pharmacy.

The majority of participants perceived value in having a DDL, and over half the participants said they would be willing to spend an average amount of USD 16 to obtain one. This willingness is consistent across age, gender and tech adoption groups.

Multiple benefits

The first phase of the DDL pilot underscored the multiple benefits to the individual, such as identify yourself online, sign documents electronically, rent cars, book airline tickets and organize driving services. 86% of users would still carry a physical DL with their DDL. This reinforces the concept of using both credential forms in tandem based on the given scenario and user preference.

Positive overall experience

The overall experience of participants in Phase 1 was overwhelmingly positive (see Figure 3).

9 in 10 participants indicated they felt confident using the DDL to verify age, while 4 in 5 liked not having to hand over a physical DL. The general public agreed, as feedback from a random sampling of the general popu­lation was also gathered after arts festival passers-by, DMV patrons and baseball game attendees were invited to experience a DDL demo first-hand. After participating in those demo events, more than 98% of users had positive impressions of the convenience of a DDL, an improved opinion of the technology, a stronger desire to use a DDL in the future, and the inclination to use a DDL again in a similar situation.

Currently, as the project moves toward the second phase, it is looking to integrate with additional services. There are also plans to explore the use of the DDL in payments and digital wallets to make them faster and even more secure.

Standards in the making

The pilot states are working with key organizations to ensure that global and national standardisation and specifications are in place, alongside functional requirements and guidelines. These organisations include:

the NIST Trusted Identity Group on digital authentication guidelines and privacy;

the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) WG10 Task Force 14 ‘Mobile Driving Licence’ for worldwide standardization;

the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators mDL Working Group for standardization in North America.

Early December 2017, results from the first phase of pilot activity were shared with the ISO technical committee in a meeting in Vienna, Austria. Data minimization and privacy protection were hot topics covered in session discussions. What happens next will depend on the successes within Phase 2, but so far the responses have been overwhelmingly positive and the potential is huge.

Numerous US initiatives

Several legislatures (legislative body of States in the United States) have authorized the study of smartphone driver’s license apps, such as Arizona, Illinois, Utah and Texas to name a few. Some other states have legislation under consideration. Idaho, Colorado, Maryland, Washington D.C and Wyoming are now on their way and have set pilots funded by a federal grant. Historically, Iowa was the first state to decide to test a digital driver’s license in 2014. The Iowa Department of Transportation hopes to make the app public in 2018.

Other developments are:

  • In Tennessee, legislation (HB556) enacted on May 20, 2015 authorizes the State DMV to develop a secure ‘electronic driver license system’ and to display electronic images on a cellular phone or any other portable electronic device.
  • In Arizona, the Senate Bill 1237 was passed and signed on May 11, 2016. The Arizona Department of Transportation has to study and specify what may be done with an electronic driver’s license.
  • In Utah, Bill 227 effective in May 2016 requires the Driver License Division and Department of Technology Services to study and report findings and recommen­dations regarding electronic driver’s licenses.
  • In Louisiana, Bill 481 was signed by Governor Edwards on June 23, 2016. It allows persons to use the digitized license in lieu of a physical DL when stopped by law enforcement. An App named La Wallet will be available in the course of May 2018 for iOS and Android devices for USD 5.99.​​
  • In Illinois, the Legislature approved a resolution in 2015 to create an Electronic Driver’s License Task Force to study the feasibility of a digital/mobile DL. The Task Force reported its findings on April 21, 2016, and recommended that the Secretary of State continue to monitor advancements in mobile driver’s license technology.
  • On March 21, 2017, in Arkansas, the Senate Bill 428 was signed into law, allowing the Office of Driver Services to issue a digital copy of an Arkansas driver’s license for a USD 10 fee.
  • In July 2017, Colorado and Maryland started a live pilot and in November 2017, Wyoming started a live pilot in Cheyenne.

Kentucky, California and New Jersey are considering the topic as well, but feasibility studies have not yet been launched.


Figure 3: A positive overall experience.

International DDL initiatives

In the 2015-2018 period different initiatives related to DDL were initiated around the world. There are in fact striking similarities to what many countries are defining and implementing, including digital identity as a defining feature in a digital space of trust, with good levels of security, interoperability and data protection.

  • In May 2016, Britain’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency revealed it was also working on a digital driving licence for smart phones and showed a ‘prototype’ of a feature that would let people store their license in their phone and turn the driver’s iPhone into an ID. According to the Daily Mail of March 31, 2017, the Agency will test the system and plan a roll out for spring 2018.[2]
  • In October 2016, senior officials at the Dutch road transport authority (RDW) made it clear that the country was working on a mobile app version of the license that would accompany a card.[3]
  • In Australia, New South Wales Minister for Finance, Services and Property Dominic Perrottet announced in November 2016 that digital driver licences will be introduced by 2019.[4] A pilot in Dubbo started in November 2017.[5]
  • In July 2017, the Brazilian National Traffic Board approved a proposition for a digital driver’s license to be launched in 2018.[6]
  • In February 2018, Finland’s Transport and Safety Agency revealed that after a successful test it will roll out a free digital driver’s license by the end of summer. The DDL app is not a replacement of the existing document but a supplement for now.[7]
  • At the end of February 2018, Kosovo announced that it will be the first country in the world to roll out a mobile driver’s license countrywide.[8]

What makes a DDL secure?

A digital driver’s license provides the highest level of security in credential storage, data transmission, and verification. A DDL is far less susceptible to fraud than a typical physical DL or ID. It is protected by high-tech security features and strong authentication not available on plastics. On the smartphone, the digital credential is protected by additional layers of security, such as a PIN or fingerprint. And what happens if the smartphone is lost or stolen? The digital license can be remotely deactivated or wiped from the smartphone almost instantly, giving the user the added peace of mind in knowing that their information is safe from misuse.

Privacy by Design

The verification device, which can be a smartphone, tablet or a simple barcode or QR code scanner, runs software that can read the presented barcode and run a real-time check. No footprint is left on the verification device and no geolocation tagging or tracking of user information occurs. In a nutshell the benefits are:

  • No geolocation tagging.
  • No tracking of the device or DDL usage.
  • Not accessible by third parties without the owner’s consent.
  • The phone always remains in user’s hands.
  • The owner controls when to show it.
  • The user controls which data to share.

Conclusion: DDL and Trusted Identity

These initiatives and pilots of digital driver’s licenses and the services they could initiate have striking similarities in challenges and potential benefits with what is called a ‘trusted identity’ in many other countries. There, States are including ‘digital identity’ as a defining feature in a digital space of trust, with good levels of security, interoperability and data protection. They are all seeking, after all, to boost efficiency, economic development and inclusion with the ultimate aim of better serving their citizens in a reliable, secure and transparent way.

Further reading


1 Digital driver’s licenses: What can we learn from the first multi-state DDL Pilot? https://www.gemalto.com/brochures-site/download-site/Documents/gov-noram-infographic-ddl-links.pdf [accessed 28 March 2018].

2 Moore, C. (2017). Digital driving licences on your phone by 2018 as ‘virtual reality’ tests explored to keep up with tech­nology. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4367586/Digital-driving-licences-phone-2018.html [accessed 28 March 2018].

3 (2016). Dutch on the road towards mobile driving licence. http://securitydocumentworld.com/article-details/i/12912 [accessed 28 March 2018].

4 Buaya, A. (2016). There’s an app for that: Driver’s licence to go fully digital in NSW – so you can carry it on your smart phone. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3992514/New-South-Wales-driver-s-licence-digital-2019.html [accessed 28 March 2018].

5 (2017). Digital drivers’ licences trialled in New South Wales. https://www.9news.com.au/national/2017/11/15/20/50/digital-drivers-licenses-trialled-in-new-south-wales [accessed 28 March 2018].

6 Mari, A. (2017). Brazil rolls out digital driving licenses. http://www.zdnet.com/article/brazil-rolls-out-digital-driving-licenses/ [accessed 28 March 2018].

7 (2018). Finland first to unveil a digital driver’s license. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/finland_first_to_unveil_a_digital_drivers_license/10055628 [accessed 28 March 2018].

8 Burt, C. (2018). Kosovo plans nationwide rollout of mobile driver’s license solution from Veridos. https://www.biometricupdate.com/201803/kosovo-plans-nationwide-rollout-of-mobile-drivers-license-solution-from-veridos [accessed 28 March 2018].

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Eric Billaert has held the position of Marketing Communications Director for the Government Business Unit at Gemalto since 2006. He joined the smart card industry through Schlumberger in 2000. From 1985 to 1999, he held various technical, business development and marketing positions at Hewlett-Packard, Digital Equipment Corporation Europe and Bull International. Eric, a French national, holds an MBA from the EDHEC Business School in Lille and graduated from IHEDN, the Institute of Higher National Defense Studies in Paris.

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