Colorado Adopts New Digital Drivers License

December 08, 2020

It’s an obvious next step. We can already pay with our phones, check in for flights with our phones and even find a date with our phones, so it’s about time there’s a digital ID option, too. 

Colorado State Troopers are leading the charge by being the first to accept digital driver’s licenses. The Centennial State has decided to move forward on accepting digital driver’s licenses after a pilot program showed that the practice shortened the amount of time it took for troopers to perform traffic stops. These shorter stops were ultimately safer for the officer, who had to spend less time on the side of a road or highway where the chance of being injured could occur.

The original push for the new digital IDs came more than a year ago from Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who signed an executive order to implement the new digital technology statewide. However, the state troopers were not willing to implement the new technology until it showed an improvement in officer safety.

Contrary to popular belief, the issue was not based on a concern about counterfeit licenses. Even when using plastic licenses, officers were able to use them for reference while looking up the driver and their record on their in-vehicle computers. The same is still true with digital IDs. Instead of providing the actual ID, the driver scans the officer’s unique QR code, which sends their license information to the patrol’s computer.

Although only about 10 percent of the vehicles pulled over in the pilot program had digital ID cards, it was enough to identify a significant reduction in time spent processing them for traffic violations. On average, troopers spent 10 percent less time on the side of the road when the driver had a digital ID. 

Russell Castagnaro, director of digital transformation at the Governor’s Office of Information Technology, said the average time to complete a traffic stop for drivers with a regular driver’s license in 5 minutes and 20 seconds. With the digital ID, it was as fast as 3 minutes and 3 seconds.

“We made it so all they have to do is touch a field, copy it and paste it directly into another field,” said Castagnaro. “That’s one of the things that saves them time.”

The digital ID is not yet approved for air travel, federal agencies or out-of-state travel; currently, it’s only being used by a small percentage of Colorado’s four million drivers. Nevertheless, the move is an exciting one that will likely gain traction across the country in the near future, making smartphones essential for yet another reason. It may also make it possible in the near future to forgo using a wallet altogether.