California's New Vertical Driver Licenses Solve (Part of) a Problem

Posted by Will Etling


I look (and I am) older than 21. Nonetheless, I still occasionally get stuck at the checkout counter while the clerk hunts around my driver's license for my birthdate.

The "birthdate hunt" might be a thing of the past with California's clever new drivers licenses and I.D. cards.

I.D. cards in California—intended for minors, the elderly, or any non-driver needing a basic I.D.—used to look nearly identical to drivers licenses. (See comparison photos below.)

That meant that in California, anyone between the ages of 1 and 100 could get a similar-looking card. Clerks, bartenders, and bouncers had to hunt around for a birthdate, and I'm sure that more than a few minors were able to buy beer and cigarettes from a distracted checker at the supermarket.

Old California Driver's License (left) and ID Card (right):

The new I.D.s and licenses make a simple change to make it immediately clear if someone is underage: if you're not 21, the card is vertical. It's a pretty brilliant solution to a common annoyance.

Here's what the new underage I.D.s look like:

And here's what it looks like if you're over 21:



It's a clever upgrade, and it'll save everyone in California some time and headaches. The cards also have the requisite arsenal of high-tech tricks: photos that are only visible under UV lights, a bar code to replace the magnetic stripe, and anti-forgery imagery.

Next, we just need a reasonable debate about the legal drinking age in the U.S., which is the higher than the majority of the world. Before we start that dialogue, though, we should improve public transit options to reduce the number of drunk drivers. And before we do that, we'll need to reduce the influence that auto manufacturers have over Washington.

Once those questions are sorted out, maybe checking I.D.s won't be such a big deal in the first place.