Iowa Hopes to be First State to Allow Drivers Licenses on Smartphones

Iowa Hopes to be First State to Allow Drivers Licenses on Smartphones

While Iowa might not be the first state to come to mind when you think of tech-savvy states, it appears the state is looking to take the lead in one area of mobile computing. Iowa residents may be the first in the U.S. to be able to use a smartphone app as their driver’s license.

Iowa Electronic Driver's License
Mockup of an Iowa Electronic Driver’s License – Des Moines Register


The Iowa Department of Transportation wants to let drivers keep an electronic version of a license on an app, in addition (or in lieu of) the traditional plastic one you’d keep in a wallet.

The free digital version of the license – which could be available as early as 2015 – would be acceptable ID to use during traffic stops, during airport screenings, as an ID at bars, and so on. The credentials would be stored in what Iowa’s Department of Transportation calls “an identity vault app.”

The possibility came up during a state budget meeting in the state’s capital earlier this week.

“We are still in the sketching phase and trying to move into development soon,” Mark Lowe, director of the motor vehicle division at Iowa DOT, told Mashable. “We have done enough serious work already that we feel confident about the features and how well it could work in the future.”

The driver’s license would display within an app, similar to an e-boarding pass for an airline flight, and would include difficult to replicate security features, such as optical bar codes and 3D-like photos for the licenses that move.

Law enforcement officials could also have the ability to remotely revoke the license in the case of fraudulent activity or crime.

In case of a smartphone bring lost or stolen, Lowe says digital driver’s licenses could be even more secure.

“Right now, there is no way to disable a driver’s license or do a true electronic verification,” he said. “Users would enter a PIN number for verification, and we might include facial recognition and iris or fingerprint scanning in the future. We would make it so only the actual owner of the license would be able to access the account — and we would use digital watermark technology to do so too.”

The application could not only host a driver’s personal details, but also send push notifications about traffic or an approaching expiration date.

Lowe knows the public may be wary of the program at first, and says Iowa DOT will have to prove the reliability of the app-based driver’s licenses.

“When electronic boarding passes first came out, some people were nervous about giving them a try, but once it was proven to be secure and reliable, it grew,” Lowe said. “We will need to do the same with mobile driver’s licenses.”

This isn’t the first time Iowa has been on the forefront of emerging technology. It is one of 30 states that allow drivers to carry electronic proof of insurance, and Iowa DOT has dashboard cameras in snowplows, so residents can view where the plows are in relation to their homes, and see what the road conditions are like.