Tennessee Aims to Join Growing Number of States Implementing Digital Driver’s Licenses

Amy Gamm
By Amy Gamm
February 4, 2023US News
Tennessee Aims to Join Growing Number of States Implementing Digital Driver’s Licenses
A person scans a QR code on an Apple Watch to temporarily send their digital driver's license to another mobile phone at a Harmons Grocery store in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Aug. 4, 2021. (George Frey/Getty Images)

Tennessee is aiming to join the growing number of states across the United States that issue digital driver’s licenses (DDLs) to their residents.

The bill, SB 572 (pdf), is currently making its way through the Tennessee Senate. Introduced by Democratic state Sen. Heidi Campbell, the legislation directs the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to study state laws (and laws in other states) and the technology required to implement DDLs as an optional format.

TDOT has until Jan. 1, 2024, to report its findings to both the state’s Senate and House of Representatives.

The Digital Driver’s License Trend

According to the Secure Technology Alliance, DDLs are “gaining traction in at least 30 U.S. states.”

In 2018, Louisiana was the first state to fully launch a DDL in the United States with its “LA Wallet,” which was made available to the public on the Apple App store, according to a statement released by Democratic Louisiana Gov. Bel Edwards.

Soon after, in November 2019, Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Colorado’s DDL launch in a state-sponsored “MyColorado” app, a digital wallet containing Colorado’s Digital ID (a driver’s license) along with other state-recognized documents including vaccination records and important documents such as insurance cards and vehicle registrations.

In 2021, Arizona, Delaware, Mississippi, and Oklahoma began creating their own versions of DDL with Mobile ID, an app created by French security company Idemia, upgradedpoints.com reported.

In 2022, Maryland authorized a DDL that can be used to “get through security checkpoints at two Washington region’s airports,” The Washington Post reported.

In September 2021, Apple announced that it had started working with several states, including Arizona, Georgia, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah to “seamlessly and securely” allow their residents to add their driver’s licenses or state IDs to Apple Wallet on their iPhones and Apple Watches.

The Secure Technology Alliance reported in an event summary to its members in December 2021 that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) “fully supports” the DDL movement “for travel authentication” and is preparing “to begin its phased rollout, with mDL [Mobile Driver’s License] Apple Wallet integration being its first step.”

To date, only three states have actually incorporated their DDLs into Apple Wallet—Arizona, Colorado, and Maryland—according to Apple.

Other DDL Legislation in the Works

California has been developing a digital ID “for some time,” according to MacRumors, and recently the California Department of Motor Vehicles said it will introduce a pilot program in late spring this year with up to 150,000 participants to test them, local Fox affiliate Fox 40 reported.

And in Washington state, Democratic state Sen. Mark Mullet introduced Senate Bill 5105 (pdf) in early January to implement a plan to issue DDLs through a mobile application.

In a statement about the legislation, Mullet said: “Drivers can already keep their vehicle registration and proof of insurance on their phone …. Having the option of our driver’s licenses and our identification on our phones is the logical next step.”

Federal Support for DDLs, Starting With REAL-ID Modernization Act

The REAL-ID Modernization Act of 2021 was a bipartisan-supported measure that was inserted into the 5,573-page spending bill of December 2020 and “sailed through both the House and Senate” before President Donald Trump signed it into law on Dec. 27, 2020, according to StateScoop.

The act “specifies that non-physical versions of driver’s licenses and other state-issued identifications will be considered valid when REAL-ID enforcement begins,” which has been extended to May 7, 2025, according to a recent TSA statement.

StateScoop explained that the legislation closed a legal question in states that have already launched DDLs, where they had previously “lingered in a gray area” as they awaited TSA approval.

In early 2022, TSA began a pilot program to accept DDLs in Apple Wallet from three “participating states”—Arizona, Colorado, and Maryland—at the “TSA PreCheck” checkpoints at 12 airports across the United States, according to the FAQ pages on the agency’s website.

TSA announced its pilot program launch in a March 2022 statement, calling the move “a significant milestone in TSA’s efforts to improve airport security screening.”

The agency explained that its interest in this technology “is driven by potential security and privacy enhancements provided by the mobile driver’s licenses compared to physical cards.”

“In addition,” the agency continued, “touchless identity verification will have health and safety benefits in response to the pandemic.”

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