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Everything You Need To Know About Digital Driver’s Licenses [2023]

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Christy Rodriguez
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Christy Rodriguez

Travel & Finance Content Contributor

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After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a cer...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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No one wants to get to the airport only to realize you’ve left your driver’s license at home. Well now, depending on what state you live in, you may be able to access your ID from your smartphone thanks to something called a digital driver’s license.

While the actual technology has been around for years, it’s only recently that the federal government and states are beginning to take steps to implement these for everyday use. That, along with the fact that major tech companies like Apple and Google (in Beta) are providing the ability to store your ID on your phone, means that the use of digital driver’s licenses is on the rise!

What Is a Digital Driver’s License (DDL)?

A digital driver’s license (which we’ll reference as a DDL moving forward) is a secure​ version of your physical driver’s license or ID card that can be stored on your cell phone.

Both iPhone and Android users can already store things like credit cards, plane tickets, hotel keys, and event tickets in digital wallets. In the same way, a DDL grants you easy access to your license or ID on your device.

A DDL isn’t just a digital copy or screenshot of your driver’s license; the technology works with your state’s government to set up and verify your identity digitally through an app or your smartphone.

Apple Wallet State ID
Scanning your Driver’s License on your phone. Image Credit: Apple

Since you rarely leave home without your phone, with a DDL, you’ll be able to access your ID even if you leave your wallet or purse at home. Keep in mind, however, that a DDL is not a replacement for your license or ID, but rather a supplement to it.

The government supports the use of DDLs. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working to help create new standards for mobile driver’s licenses, known as ISO 18013-5 mDL, and TSA started testing DDL acceptance for PreCheck passengers at select trial airports.

At a state level, many states have already begun rolling out digital driver’s licenses that are compatible with Apple Wallet. Since states are generally responsible for issuing licenses and ID cards, whether or not you’ll have access and when will depend on where you live.

How Does a DDL Work with REAL ID?

As we noted above, the DHS is working to develop and adopt standards related to digital driver’s licenses (although it refers to them as mobile driver’s licenses or mDLs).

This is a work in progress, but the DHS is working to compile information in order to “enable federal agencies to accept mDLs as REAL ID-compliant identification for official purposes.”

DHS specifically notes that it realizes that the process to obtain a physical REAL ID is different from those to obtain a DDL, however, “DMVs will continue to be required to meet existing identity and lawful status documentation and verification requirements required under the REAL ID Act.”

Don’t expect the process to obtain a REAL ID to change much, if at all, as DDLs become more common.

How Do You Get a DDL?

While each state’s process will be slightly different, at a high level, when you go to apply for or renew your license, you’ll select the DDL option. Each state’s license-issuing authority (such as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or similar) will have a process in place to pair your phone with your profile.

This will mean downloading an app on your smartphone and completing the pairing process. Your DDL will then be downloaded and stored securely on your phone. Once your DDL has been downloaded, the app will be secured with a PIN or fingerprint, ensuring that no one can access it but you.

How To Store/Access Your DDL

Once you have your DDL verified, you’ll need to be able to access it quickly for it to be useful to you.

Apple Wallet/Apple Watch

Similar to how you add new credit cards, event tickets, transit passes, etc. to Apple Wallet, you’ll just need to tap the “+” button at the top of the screen in Wallet on your iPhone to start the process to add your license or ID. According to this Apple press release, users should follow the prompts during the setup process, which include:

  1. Scanning your physical driver’s license or state ID card
  2. Taking a selfie
  3. Completing a series of facial and head movements

After you’ve completed these steps, it’s up to the issuing state to verify the ID before you can use it. Once it has been verified, your ID or driver’s license will be automatically added to your Apple Wallet.

If you also have an Apple Watch paired to your iPhone, you will automatically be prompted to also add your ID or driver’s license to your Wallet app on your Apple Watch.

State-sponsored Apps

There are a few states that offer their own apps to store your digital ID, such as:

  • Arizona, Delaware, Mississippi, and Oklahoma — Idemia, a French security company, has launched the Mobile ID app in several U.S. states, including ArizonaDelaware, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.
  • ColoradomyColorado is a state-sponsored app that offers proof of identification, age, and address within the state.
  • Louisiana — The DDL in the LA Wallet app is 100% legal for driving purposes and accepted by state law enforcement.
  • MarylandMaryland Mobile ID is an app that is a “voluntary, secure, digitized version of your MDOT MVA-issued driver’s license (DL) or identification card (ID) available in the Apple Wallet app on your iPhone and Apple Watch.”
  • Utah — The Get Mobile group has developed an app for Utah that is currently an optional program.

Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Puerto Rico will offer digital licenses in the near future.

Other Companies Developing Digital Driver’s Licenses

While it’s the biggest in terms of rollout at the moment, Apple isn’t the only company offering digital IDs that are available on your smartphone.

Google has also been working on a way to store digital driver’s licenses, and in the December 2022 update, Google launched digital IDs for select states in Google Wallet as a Beta feature. It’s very early days for this, so there’s little information at present on how this work or where it will be accepted.

IBM has been researching digital driver’s licenses for many years and expressed enthusiasm for how they might rely on blockchain technology. IBM had a lot of traction in this space initially, with the push to modernize California’s DMV website back in 2016, but hasn’t been as active in the space lately.

How To Use a DDL

To use your digital license, you’d go into the digital wallet app on the device where you stored your information and pull up your electronic ID. This will bring out a scannable QR code which will be scanned as needed. Confirmation of your credentials will appear on the device that did the scanning.

Hot Tip: Since this DDL information is all presented digitally through encrypted communication directly between the device and the identity reader, you won’t need to unlock, show, or hand over your device.

The good news is that none of your personal information is stored in the QR code for privacy reasons, and you might even show a restricted version that just shows your name, face, and confirmation that you’re of drinking age, for example.

A digital driver’s license is just a supplement to your physical driver’s license and may not be accepted everywhere you go. Since not all states currently accept digital driver’s licenses, it’s still a good idea to bring your license if you’ll be traveling between states. In addition, you’ll still need your passport to travel internationally.

How To Use a DDL at TSA Security Checkpoints

TSA started accepting digital driver’s licenses at select airports in early 2022, with TSA PreCheck passengers going through security at the airport and being able to present their DDL on their smartphones. This process is the same as scanning a mobile boarding pass.

DDLs for Arizona, Colorado, and Maryland are currently accepted at the following participating airports for TSA PreCheck passengers:

  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DET)
  • Gulfport Biloxi International Airport (GPT)
  • Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Apple Wallet Present Digital Drivers License to TSA
Adding a digital driver’s license to your Apple Wallet. Image Credit: Apple

It’s worth noting that only DDLs stored in Apple Wallet are accepted rather than state-sponsored apps, and you might need to show your physical ID card while still in the testing phase. You will be able to tap your iPhone or Apple Watch at the TSA identity reader and follow the prompts on your device that show the specific information being requested by the TSA.

Apple notes that “only after authorizing with Face ID or Touch ID is the requested identity information released from their device, which ensures that just the required information is shared and only the person who added the driver’s license or state ID to the device can present it.”

Bottom Line: This automated method of verification means that you won’t need to unlock, show, or even hand over your device to TSA.

How To Present Your DDL to Law Enforcement

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy to determine how this process will work, since it will be up to each state and local law enforcement agency to determine what procedure and methods work best for them.

You might be required to pull up your state-sponsored app, or even you may be able to open the Apple Wallet or the upcoming comparable Google app.

The idea is that you will be able to present your DDL to law enforcement, and law enforcement will have access to all of the same information that is present on the physical card.

How To Present for Age Verification

To buy age-restricted goods like alcohol, or to enter certain establishments, like bars, someone will ask to see your ID. They are trying to accomplish a few things:

  • You have a valid ID
  • You are the valid owner of the ID
  • You are of legal age

They don’t necessarily need to see other information, like your full name, address, etc. With a DDL, the cashier can scan your DDL within Apple Wallet or your state’s driver’s license app and receive confirmation of the items above without getting access to other personal information that they don’t need.

Which States Allow DDLs

Other states already offer, or are in the testing phase to offer, a digital driver’s license. Those states include:

SCROLL FOR MORE
StateStatus of Digital Driver’s License
ArizonaArizona is currently using the Mobile ID app, developed by Idemia and also available for Apple Wallet.
CaliforniaCalifornia is currently running a pilot for California’s Digital ID Project to roll out in the near future.
ColoradoColorado has been accepting digital licenses using the myColorado app since 2019 and this is also available for Apple Wallet.
ConnecticutConnecticut is working with Apple to develop virtual IDs that work with Apple Wallet, per Apple, but it is still not available yet.
DelawareDelaware is currently using the Mobile ID app, developed by Idemia.
FloridaFlorida is currently running a pilot for the Florida Smart ID to roll out in the near future.
GeorgiaGeorgia will be among the first states in the country to introduce compatibility with Apple Wallet, per Apple, but this is still not available yet.
HawaiiHawaii is working on compatibility with Apple Wallet, per Apple, but this is still not available yet.
IowaIowa is working with Apple to develop virtual IDs that work with Apple Wallet, per Apple.  The Iowa Mobile ID is also “coming soon,” per IowaDOT.
KentuckyKentucky is working with Apple to develop virtual IDs that work with Apple Wallet, per Apple, but this is still not available yet.
LouisianaLouisiana’s LA Wallet app launched in 2018 and provides a digital driver’s license that is accepted by state police.
MarylandMaryland Mobile ID is available for Apple Wallet.
MississippiMississippi has a digital Mississippi Mobile ID app to store your digital driver’s license and this is working with Apple as well.
New JerseyNew Jersey is working with Apple to develop virtual IDs that work with Apple Wallet, per Apple, but this is still not available yet.
OhioOhio is working with Apple to develop virtual IDs that work with Apple Wallet, per Apple, but this is still not available yet.
OklahomaOklahoma is currently using the Mobile ID app, developed by Idemia.
Puerto RicoPuerto Rico is working with Apple to develop virtual IDs that work with Apple Wallet, per Apple, but this is still not available yet.
UtahUtah is currently using the Get Mobile ID app, developed by GET Group North America, and is working with Apple to develop virtual IDs that work with Apple Wallet.

This list is sure to expand in the future as many states, such as Illinois, Texas, and Virginia have proposals for digital versions of IDs and driver’s licenses, but these haven’t been passed yet.

Specific to Apple, it notes that “driver’s licenses and state IDs in Wallet take full advantage of the privacy and security built into iPhone and Apple Watch. Customers’ identity data is encrypted and protected against tampering and theft. Biometric authentication using Face ID and Touch ID ensures that only the person who added the ID to the device can view or present their ID or license in Wallet.”

In addition, if you misplace your iPhone or Apple Watch, you can always use the Find My app to lock your device until you locate it, or even remotely erase your device. This is more secure than you losing your physical driver’s license or ID card.

Bottom Line: You might argue that your phone’s wallet is more secure than your physical wallet, as we noted many of the security measures in place above.

The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, has highlighted concerns with digital licenses, including:

  • Concerns that hackers could exploit the adoption of digital driver’s licenses
  • Law enforcement “could use digital driver’s license verification as a pretext to search people’s devices”
  • The consolidation and tracking of large amounts of users and their data without their knowledge or consent
  • Decreased control over the data that ID holders release

These are valid concerns, but some states, such as California, are already introducing legislation to ensure that law enforcement is not able to search your phone without your consent.

Final Thoughts

Thanks to digital driver’s licenses, you’ll be able to access your ID simply by using your smartphone. These DDLs are a secure way to store your information, without the necessity to have access to your physical ID card.

Some states, such as Colorado and Louisana, already have apps that allow you to store your license on your phones, and Apple has plans to roll out digital licenses that are compatible with TSA to more states soon. If you don’t see your state on this initial list of participants, be sure to keep an eye on this space because the list is sure to expand!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a digital driver's license?

Both iPhone and Android users can already store things like credit cards, plane tickets, hotel keys, and event tickets in digital wallets. In the same way, a DDL grants you easy access to your license or ID on your device.

It is a secure​ version of your physical driver’s license or ID card that can be stored on your smartphone.

How do I get a digital driver's license?

If your state offers a digital driver’s license, you must apply at your local DMV or license-issuing agency. From there, you’ll need to download the state-sponsored app and follow the verification process in order to access your digital driver’s license.

Which states have a digital driver's license?

Many states offer digital driver’s licenses, such as Arizona, Delaware, and Oklahoma. More states are testing programs and plan to roll out digital driver’s licenses to the general public in the near future. Check out our table above for a full list.

Is a digital license legal?

States must first pass legislation making digital driver’s licenses legal. Once this is done, you are able to use your digital license to provide to law enforcement, to provide age verification, vote, and even travel through TSA security checkpoints.

Can I keep my driver's license in Apple Wallet?

In the near future, Apple will allow people from participating states to store their digital driver’s licenses in their Apple Wallet. These initial states include Arizona, Colorado, and Maryland.

How do I get a digital driver's license in Alabama?

A digital driver’s license is available when you renew your Alabama driver’s license, however, this is not yet compatible with Apple Wallet.

How do I get a digital driver's license in New Jersey?

New Jersey is working with Apple to develop virtual IDs that work with Apple Wallet, but this is still not available yet.

How do I get a digital driver's license in Texas?

Texas does not currently offer a digital driver’s license.

Why can't our driver's license be digital?

The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, has highlighted concerns with digital licenses, including:

  • Concerns that hackers could exploit the adoption of digital driver’s licenses
  • Law enforcement “could use digital driver’s license verification as a pretext to search people’s devices”
  • The consolidation and tracking of large amounts of users and their data without their knowledge or consent
  • Decreased control over the data that ID holders release

Each state must pass legislation for driver’s licenses to be digitalized.

Christy Rodriguez's image

About Christy Rodriguez

After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a certified CPA.

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