Bill Would Have Driver’s Licenses Going Retro With Black-And-White Photos

Wyoming is using a new and more secure technology for its drivers licenses, but that technology so far does not play well with color. To allow black-and-white photos on them requires the Wyoming Legislature to act.

Renée Jean

February 14, 20233 min read

BW drivers licenses 2 13 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Black-and-white movies may be a thing of the past, but black-and-white driver’s license photos could be making a comeback in Wyoming.

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow driver’s licenses to sport black-and-white photos instead of color. 

The issue, according to state officials, is security.

Today’s modern driver’s licenses are made from a polycarbonate material that’s far more secure than the old method, which was done on PVC.

“You can basically buy a whole sleeve of (PVC cards) and get your inkjet printer out and start printing,” Wyoming Driver Services Program Manager Misty Zimmerman told lawmakers on the House Transportation Committee during committee deliberations  on Thursday. “We have seen multiple false documents (from that).”

Let’s Get REAL

The REAL ID Act, which Congress passed in 2005, enacted recommendations from the 9/11 Commission to set a higher standard for official methods of identification, including driver’s licenses.

“The card that we have today is a much more secure card,” Zimmerman said.

One feature of the polycarbonate card is it only allows for laser-engraved printing, which pulls black ink out of the substrate.

Since the process never prints anything directly on the card, it’s impossible to scrape away of the letters or numbers to change ages or other information. Trying to do so would destroy the card itself.

But the polycarbonate material so far only yields black ink, making reproducing color photos problematic.

Various approaches have been tried, including moving a production facility to be closer to the printer manufacturer for collaboration. But despite that, the end result was still often a fuzzy color photo, one in which it is sometimes difficult to distinguish details like eye color and the shape of someone’s nose or eyes.

“Everything just becomes a little bit more crisp and a little bit more clear when we move to that black-and-white photo,” Zimmerman said.

Added Flexibility

Senate File 20 proposes removing the word “color” as a requirement for state-issued driver’s licenses, which will give Wyoming officials more flexibility in choosing the right technology.

If and when technology improves, Zimmerman indicated the office would be very likely to simply return to color photos.

If SF 20 were to pass, Wyoming would be the 14th state to allow polycarbonate cards with black-and-white photos, she said.

“This card is very difficult to reproduce,” she said. “In fact, since we’ve been doing this, since November of 2019, our vendor has not identified any cards that have been reproduced.”

Color photos will still be captured and stored as part of the driver’s license process so that an officer checking a credential can refer to it as well.

Where The Bill Stands

Senate File 20 passed unanimously out of the Senate Transportation Committee with an amendment that allows cancer patients to use an older photo so they don’t have to take a new one with no hair.

The bill as amended passed the Senate with 25 votes. In the House, the Transportation Committee approved it 7-2. It has so far passed its second reading on the House floor. It needs one more reading to pass the House.

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter