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Electronic drivers licenses touted as technological step forward


(The Center Square) – Electronic driver’s licenses exist in 12 states and Pennsylvania could be number 13.

House Bill 1247 would authorize PennDOT to develop an app providing users with a mobile digital license, or mDL, to use as an alternate method of identification. However, physical licenses would still be required while driving.

Rep. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, the bill’s sponsor, patterned his legislation after a 2016 law enacted in Louisiana.

During a House Transportation Committee hearing on Tuesday, Miller said the rise of phones post-pandemic for use as payment methods – a trend especially embraced by the younger generation – suggests his legislation is a next step.

PennDOT and the Aviation Council of Pennsylvania support the idea, but said the bill needs more privacy protections. Kara Templeton, the department’s deputy secretary for driver and vehicle services, compared the transition to the evolution seen with payment cards and ATMs.

Tim Edwards, executive director of the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, representing the Aviation Council of Pennsylvania, agreed data security is of paramount importance and suggested that any electronic license conforms to REAL ID standards.

Edwards said the implementation of digital driver’s licenses “represents a progressive step toward modernizing our transportation system.” He urged lawmakers to “consider the numerous benefits associated with the technology and to explore how it can contribute to safer, more efficient, and a digitally resilient future for Pennsylvania.”

There’s other limitations mDLs should have, according to law enforcement officials.

Major Robert J. Krol, Jr., director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Patrol, said the agency’s main concern is requiring motorists to carry a physical license. Not all police vehicles are equipped with scanning devices, and it is not acceptable for officers to take a driver’s phone back to a squad car to take down necessary information during a traffic stop.

Similarly, Rodrigo Diaz, executive director of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, cited potential issues that could put more alcohol into the hands of minors.

PLCB employees can be held criminally liable for selling alcohol to anyone under 21 and they are taught to carefully evaluate the condition of, and information on, a physical license or ID. Diaz said if mDLs are deemed acceptable for their use, he believes the result will be one of two things: the seller will take a chance and more minors may get alcohol, “or they’re just not going to accept them.”

Then there’s more practical concerns, like rural Pennsylvania’s lacking connectivity.

“The risk outweighs the reward,” said Rep. Eric Davanzo, R-West Newton. Given the fact that people still need to carry physical driver’s licenses, credit cards and wallets, he said he doesn’t see the need for it.