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I.D. problem will be fixed, but other features help

I am writing in reference to the Oct. 9 News story, "Store scanners fail to read state's new driver's licenses."

On Sept. 16, the Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing driver's licenses that had a new configuration on the back. The reason for the new configuration was to meet national license standards established by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

The new licenses also allow New York State to offer its residents a document that will meet the security requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

The physical change in the license is fairly easy to understand. If your license was issued before Sept. 16, at the top of the back of the license there is one line with slashes. That barcode contains the birth date of the license holder. It is referred to as a 1D barcode. If you look at the bottom of the license, you see another barcode that is twice the size of the barcode at the top and looks more like a fuzzy TV screen. That barcode, which is referred to as a 2D bar code, contains all the information that is on the front of the license. On the licenses issued since Sept. 16, only the 2D barcode is used.

It is my understanding that many store owners, as a convenience, have become accustomed to swiping the single barcode for electronic proof of age and for the purpose of establishing a record that the document was properly presented. While laudable in concept, we strongly believe that proof of age is best confirmed by checking the date of birth on the front of the license while using the photograph to confirm the customer's identity and quickly verifying that visible security features are intact. In any case, some vendors who rely on the 1D barcode for this purpose are not currently set up to read a 2D barcode, although a software upgrade may be available for some swipe card readers.

When the Department of Motor Vehicles was working on this change, government agencies and commercial associations whose members use the New York State driver's license as a form of identification were notified that the 1D barcode would be eliminated on Sept. 16. That notification was done informally as early as last January and was formally distributed in July.

I would also like to point out that this issue should affect only younger people who have been issued a license since Sept. 16, a tiny fraction of the millions of licenses in circulation. In those cases, the front of the license has many security features that people used to checking for proof can easily recognize.

Finally, any inconvenience in using our barcode to confirm such an age determination is temporary, and I am confident that issues with scanning our 2D barcode will be remedied by the agencies involved in a very short time.

In the meantime, the State Department of Motor Vehicles continues to look to the future and provide the kinds of secure documents that will be valuable to its citizens for years to come.

David J. Swarts is commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

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