Kansas drivers will receive new-style licenses when they renew

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Concerned about security after the terrorist attack of 9/11, the state of Kansas is opting for a different format for driver’s licenses.

Beginning in May, the state began issuing the driver’s licenses in select counties.

According to Kathy Swan, driver’s license examiner for Marion County, that new format has moved into the Marion County courthouse, too.

“They’re trying to cut down on fraudulent licenses,” Swan said. “I’m sure at least some of these changes were prompted because of the Homeland Security Act.”

As before, each license is laminated with a tamper-resistant coating that increases the card’s security and durability. The front laminate shows a pattern of the Kansas State Seal that changes color as the license is tilted. Printed data overlaps the digital photo and ghost-portrait image.

But the most noticeable difference drivers will encounter, Swan said, will be what is in their hands after they’ve passed their license exam.

“You’ll now receive a receipt on thermal-type paper with your picture and biography on it,” she said. “This temporary license will be valid for 60 days, but you should receive your new license in the mail in seven to 10 days.

“If there are any problems, that 60-day period should be enough to get things straightened out.”

Swan said extreme care should be exercised when handling the temporary receipt.

“As soon as I hit the button and it says the license is done and the picture receipt prints, I can only go in there for about 10 minutes and reissue that receipt, should you lose it for some reason,” she said. “After that, it’s gone. The receipt is irreplaceable.”

Recipients need to be careful not to not lose or wash the receipt, leave it laying in the sun, or laminate it.

“Thermal paper turns black when heated, and the information on it will no longer be legible,” she said.

Known as a “Central Issue” system, personal information will be forwarded to Digimarc ID Systems based in Tualatin, Ore., where the license will be issued on a “per card produced” transaction fee to the state of Kansas. That cost is included in your license fee.

“This new system won’t cost you anymore than the old system,” Swan said. “The prices were adjusted last July 1 and this won’t add a thing to those costs.”

Vital to the process is accurate information about the applicant’s current residence.

“The thing we want to emphasize is that we need to have your correct mailing address,” Swan said. “We don’t see this quite so much (as a problem) in Marion County as in other counties, but in some places, 20 people might give the same address and it turns out to be a vacant lot.

“But if we don’t have a correct and accurate address, you will not get a license.”

Drivers under the age of 21 will notice an especially dramatic change in the look of their license.

“If you’re under 21 years old, you’ll have a vertical license,” Swan said, rather than the traditional horizontal issue.

Depending upon the applicant’s age at the time the card is issued, it will contain statements indicating the date at which the bearer turns 18 and 21.

Either a red bar stating “Not 21 until (specified date),” or “Not 18 until (specified date)” on a green bar will be evident under the driver’s photo.

“This will enable retailers and others to identify minors much easier,” Swan said.

But there’s no need to rush to the courthouse to request your new license, Swan said.

“You just go by the expiration date that’s already on your license,” she said. “The state will send out renewal forms six weeks in advance, just like always.

“Either style of license will work until everyone gets changed over,” she added. “You can actually only renew your license one year in advance of your expiration date.”

Other features of the new license will be the ID and 2D barcodes and magnetic stripe on the back of each document that contain data from the front of the card.

“I don’t know if these bar codes vary from state to state, but some of them are pretty impressive,” Swan said. “Some can hold up to 30,000 pages of information.”

The photo of the driver has its own security features.

“Part of the reason (the state is) doing this is to ensure you really are who you say you are by your picture,” Swan said. “That’s the neat thing about this-they’re checking the distance between the retinas in your eyes.

“We have little cross hairs that we can zoom on and put it exactly over the retina of each eye,” she added. “They tell us that distance never changes during your entire lifetime.

“Even if you have radical plastic surgery, your eyes will always be the same distance apart.”

Swan said she doesn’t think it will take long for Kansans to get used to the new system.

“The new licenses will be the exact same size as your old license,” she said. “The only difference is that you won’t walk out of the examiner’s office with your new license.

“A lot of states were so busy they never had time to issue the licenses at that time anyway,” she added. “We’re kind of spoiled in that regard. Sometimes it’s kind of nice to live in the Midwest.”

If early indications are a measuring stick, Swan said the transition to the new system will be smooth.

“Thus far the response has been pretty good,” she said. “I thought maybe more people would be surprised, but I’m not getting the reaction I thought we would.

“People think it’s interesting but they aren’t surprised,” she added. “I think most of them think it’s a good thing.

“This new system is a little bit faster, too” she said. “I think it’s just a great idea.”

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