The driving licence you can keep on your smartphone

By Gerri Peev

The British Government would not be the first in the world to replace physical driving licences with digital versions. Motorists in New South Wales, Australia, will have access to full digital licences by 2018. Photo / Oliver Morley
The British Government would not be the first in the world to replace physical driving licences with digital versions. Motorists in New South Wales, Australia, will have access to full digital licences by 2018. Photo / Oliver Morley

Photocard driving licences came a step closer to being replaced with a digital version on smartphones yesterday in the UK.

Motorists who leave their licence at home will be able to prove they are qualified to get behind the wheel by flashing an app on their phone.

Yesterday, officials at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency UK unveiled a prototype on Twitter.

Chief executive Oliver Morley wrote: 'So here's a little prototype of something we're working on #drivinglicence.'

The licence appears as a 'pass' in the Wallet app on an iPhone, which is usually used to store digital tickets for flights or the cinema, for example.

Mr Morley said the digital licence would be an 'add-on' for now rather than a replacement for the l cards, even though the digital mock-up looked much like a photocard, including the driver's photograph, name and date of birth, and the date of issue and expiry of the licence.

However, having real-time information on a phone poses some practical problems.

It is not known what would happen if a motorist's mobile phone runs out of battery, and privacy campaigners could have concerns about data leaks and third parties accessing information about drivers.

Questions could also be raised about the implications of handing over a mobile phone to a police officer when stopped.

One way around this could be for police to carry phones with compatible apps which could simply verify the motorist's digital data remotely without the need for an officer to handle a driver's phone.

Some smartphones already allow users to pay for goods in shops with their devices, using apps such as Wallet.



This information can be accessed with a passcode or fingerprint technology.
The paper counterpart of the driving licence was abolished in June last year to save money and cut red tape.

The digital version could include the sort of data the paper version once held, such as a driver's penalty points. Ben Wood, an analyst with the market research firm CCS Insight, told the BBC: 'Security has taken a significant step forward to support digital payments on phones, so the framework is in place for other secure applications, such as a digital driving licence.

'There are not many people in the UK that do not carry a smartphone with them every day, so it is a logical next step.' Chris Green, a technology analyst for the business consultancy Lewis, said the move was a logical next step after the introduction of electronic tickets for concerts and flights.



He added: 'People are getting more and more used to the technology because of e-ticketing. People are far more comfortable with the concept of keeping key information on their smartphone.'

DeLaRue, which prints British banknotes and passports, is working on a paperless passport, and ministers have announced plans to put all driving records online.

The British Government would not be the first in the world to replace physical driving licences with digital versions. Motorists in New South Wales, Australia, will have access to full digital licences by 2018.

Hopefully, when the DVLA does eventually go fully digital, its computer systems will be able to cope. Its website crashed last June when the paper counterpart was abolished and motorists were told to verify their details online to hire cars abroad.

- Daily Mail

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