Businesses split on effectiveness of ID changes

Georgia driver's licenses are getting a new look by the end of the year, but some Augusta businesses question whether it will help curb underage drinking as the Georgia Department of Driver Services hopes.

The revamped licenses are more colorful and detailed than current licenses. They feature three photos of the driver, a laser-engraved signature and a tamper-resistant coating, making them harder to counterfeit.

Each will also have a barcode, which banks and stores can scan to verify the information on the card. Cards issued to drivers younger than 21 will be printed vertically.

The state is spending $40 million to improve its licensing system, which hasn't been updated since 1996.

The contract was awarded to L-1 Identity Solutions, a Connecticut-based company with an office in Conyers, Ga. The company produces U.S. passports, does fingerprinting for the Transportation Security Administration and provides iris scanning and facial recognition devices for troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The technology for driver's licenses comes from a partnership with Digimarc, the company that sued the state of Georgia in 2003 over a contract awarded to a rival company in an earlier attempt to digitize the license system.

Bill Prince wonders whether the upgrade is worth the expense. He said he doesn't think it will change the way he does business at Bill's Place, the liquor store he runs on Fifth Street in downtown Augusta.

"I don't see how it'll help," he said. "The date's pretty plain on the ones we've got now. We check licenses every time. It's plain on there. We don't have to have special colors or shapes to see it."

The changes were announced by Gov. Sonny Perdue in July.

Drivers at the Augusta, Evans and Thomson customer service centers should see the revamped licenses around the end of December, according to Susan Sports, the public information officer for the Department of Driver Services. Updated licenses aren't required until current ones expire.

The new cards will cost drivers the same as the old ones. As for the money the state is spending, "You get what you pay for," Mrs. Sports said. "It is money well spent. Producing a fraudulent license will be harder now."

Karen Miller, a manager at Somewhere in Augusta, a sports bar on Washington Road, said fraudulent licenses are rarely a problem.

"In most bars the problem isn't that people are using a fake, but that they're using someone else's ID," she said. "Whether (the under 21 licenses) go up and down or side to side isn't going to make a difference."

The sharper, digital pictures on the new IDs could, however, make a difference. So could the improved signature, Ms. Miller said.

"Some of the changes they've made in the past have helped. The watermarks and the holograms are the reason why we don't see as many fakes anymore," she said. "Maybe this will help, too."

Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or kelly.jasper@augustachronicle.com.

LICENSE CHANGES

YOUNG DRIVERS: Cards issued to those 21 or younger will be printed vertically.

INTERIM LICENSES: Temporary licenses will be printed on security paper with heat-sensitive ink and fibers that glow under ultraviolet light. They are valid for 45 days and will be issued for first-time drivers as well as renewals. A permanent card will arrive in the mail.

DRIVER'S LICENSES AND IDS: Higher-quality digital photos will be used, appearing twice as a ghost image. The cards also include a laser-engraved signature, barcode, a state seal that responds to ultraviolet light and hologram.

LEARN MORE: www.dds.ga.gov/FAQs