Has this ever happened to you — you grab your iPhone and keys and jump in your car to go somewhere, only to realize after you start driving that you forgot to pick up your wallet or purse, and thus you don't have your driver's license with you. As a result, you spend the rest of your trip praying that you don't get pulled over for any reason. You could just take a picture of your license and keep that on your iPhone, but that isn't going to be legally valid. The only real solution is a digital version of your driver's license which is valid under state law. Louisiana, where I live, was the first state to roll out a digital driver's license on July 3, 2018, and a few other states are working on similar initiatives. The app that you use in Louisiana is called LA Wallet.
Announcing the app earlier this week, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said: "Most people never leave home without their smartphone and with this App, they will never be without their driver’s license. State Police requested a 'hands-off' and 'no-touch' procedure that would not require them to hold a driver’s phone. Rep. Ted James who authored the legislation that led to the creation of this App is to be commended for his work as well as the team of Louisianans who designed it."
Before discussing the app, let's briefly address the statute that makes this app possible. In Louisiana, and I imagine in virtually every other jurisdiction in the world, you need a driver's license with you when you are driving a car. In Louisiana, that law can be found in La. R.S. § 32:411. Act No. 625 of 2016 amended that statute to add language saying that you can either have a license or a digital license when you are driving. The current law provides, with the new language in bold and underlined: "The licensee shall have his license, or a digitized driver's license as provided in this Section, in his immediate possession at all times when driving a motor vehicle and shall display it upon demand of any officer or agent of the department or any police officer of the state, parish, or municipality..." La. R.S. § 32:411(F)(1).
The law then goes on to provide what constitutes a valid digital driver's license. The law specifically provides that it is not enough to just have a picture of your driver's license. See La. R.S. § 32:411(F)(3)(b) ("A digital copy, photograph, or image of a driver's license which is not downloaded through the application on a mobile device shall not be a valid digitized driver's license as provided by this Section.") Instead, a legal digital driver's license in Louisiana must be displayed in an app that meets certain requirements, including the ability to connect to the La. Department of Public Safety via the Internet to confirm that the digital driver's license is currently valid.
The law also provides that, for now, a digital driver's license is only valid during a traffic stop or a checkpoint. If you need to provide your license for some other reason, such as proving your identity to TSA to board an airplane or to prove that you are of legal drinking age at a bar, for now at least the digital driver's license is not enough. But there are efforts underway to expand the acceptance of a Louisiana digital driver's license.
If you show your iPhone to a police officer, does that mean that you have consented for the police officer to look at other apps on your iPhone? The statute explicitly says no: "The display of a digitized driver's license shall not serve as consent or authorization for a law enforcement officer, or any other person, to search, view, or access any other data or application on the mobile device." La. R.S. § 32:411(F)(3)(e). Moreover, once the officer looks at your digital driver's license, the officer is required by law to return your iPhone to you. "If a person presents their mobile device to a law enforcement officer for purposes of displaying their digitized driver's license, the law enforcement officer shall promptly return the mobile device to the person once he has had an opportunity to verify the identity and license status of the person." Id.
Here are all of the statutory requirements associated with a digital driver's license in Louisiana, contained in La. R.S. § 32:411(F)(3):
(a) For the purposes of this Subsection, a digitized driver's license shall mean a data file available on any mobile device which has connectivity to the internet through an application that allows the mobile device to download the data file from the department or an authorized representative of the department, contains all of the data elements visible on the face and back of the license, and also displays the current status of the license. For the purposes of this Subparagraph, "current status" shall include but is not limited to valid, expired, cancelled, suspended, disqualified, hardship, or interlock hardship status.
(b) A digital copy, photograph, or image of a driver's license which is not downloaded through the application on a mobile device shall not be a valid digitized driver's license as provided by this Section.
(c) A person shall not be issued a citation for driving a motor vehicle without a physical driver's license in his possession if he presents a digitized driver's license to a law enforcement officer in connection with a traffic stop or checkpoint in Louisiana. However, in connection with requests for identification not associated with traffic stops or checkpoints in Louisiana, a person may be required to produce a physical driver's license to a law enforcement officer, a representative of a state or federal department or agency, or a private entity when so requested and be subject to all the applicable laws and consequences for failure to produce such license.
(d) The department shall promulgate such rules as are necessary to implement a digitized driver's license. No digitized driver's license shall be valid until the department has adopted such rules.
(e) The display of a digitized driver's license shall not serve as consent or authorization for a law enforcement officer, or any other person, to search, view, or access any other data or application on the mobile device. If a person presents their mobile device to a law enforcement officer for purposes of displaying their digitized driver's license, the law enforcement officer shall promptly return the mobile device to the person once he has had an opportunity to verify the identity and license status of the person.
(f) The fee to install the application to display a digitized driver's license as defined in Subparagraph (a) of this Paragraph shall not exceed six dollars.
As I noted above, digital driver's licenses are coming to other states too. Just a few days ago, William Petroski reported in the Des Moines Register that Iowa is working out the details of its digital driver's license, which is expected to debut in 2019. Iowa, Colorado, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Wyoming are working with a company called Gemalto, which received a $2 million grant from the federal NIST to design and test a digital driver's license.
The LA Wallet app
Currently, the only digital driver's license app in Louisiana is an app called LA Wallet, although I imagine that others could make similar apps as long as they meet the requirements of the statute. When you start the app you are asked to provide an email address and create a password so that you have an account with Envoc, the Louisiana-based company that created the app. Next, you need to create a four-digit PIN, which you will have to enter every time you open the LA Wallet app.
Next, you add your driver's license to the app by supplying your full name, your driver's license number, and your audit code (a four-digit number on the front of every Louisiana driver's license). Although the LA Wallet app is free, you need to pay $5.99 to download a digital license. That $5.99 will cover you until you get a new driver's license. (In Louisiana, a license is good for up to six years.)
That's it. Now, when you open the app, you enter your PIN, and then the app shows you the main screen:
Tap on the small image of your license to bring up the full view:
A high-quality digital version of your full driver's license is displayed. The app determines whether your license is valid and displays that clearly along the top — a large green bar if it is valid. I'm not sure how often the app normally checks (it did it several times on its own during my testing) but you can always tap the Refresh button to force it to check. You can tap the View button to switch between a graphical version of your license and just the key information in large, plain text.
I cannot say that I fully tested this app because I haven't yet used it when I was pulled over for a traffic stop or a random checkpoint. And if I never get a chance to conduct that sort of "test" that would be fine with me. But it certainly looks like this app does everything that it says.
Spending $6 for up to six years of never having to worry about forgetting my driver's license when I am driving seems like a pretty good deal to me. And as noted above, the legal uses of this app may expand in the future, which might be helpful for folks younger than me who are frequently carded at a bar but may not always have a physical license.
I like the idea of moving away from physical cards. I can already walk to many stores with nothing more than my iPhone or Apple Watch, using Apple Pay to pay for my purchases. (I actually just did that yesterday morning to pick up a few groceries.) Thanks to the LA Wallet app, now I can also drive to those stores, or anywhere else in Louisiana, without having to worry about having my wallet which contains my driver's license.
If you live in Louisiana, I encourage you to get the LA Wallet app. If you live elsewhere, hopefully you will soon have a similar iPhone app that you can use.