Say cheese! New licenses coming soon

Published 9:43 pm Saturday, March 28, 2009

Suffolk residents getting or renewing a driver’s license or identification cards after the first week of June will see some changes other than the older faces in their photos.

That’s because the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is changing the format of Virginia’s driver’s licenses and ID cards. The new cards will have numerous security measures, making them harder to counterfeit, said Melanie Stokes, a DMV spokeswoman.

Virginia is implementing the new program at all 74 of its DMV offices around the state, Stokes said. Instead of having 74 DMV locations making and issuing driver’s licenses, the cards will now be manufactured in one central office in Danville. With only 10-15 people manufacturing the licenses, instead of a handful of people at each of the 74 locations, the process will be more secure, Stokes said.

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“It will reduce any kind of risks for fraud, and reduce incidence of false addresses,” she said.

People still will go to the local DMV office to apply for a license or ID, but they should now go at least two weeks in advance of their card expiration date. If their application for the card is approved, they will be given back their old card (if they had one) and a receipt as proof that the new one is in the mail. They should receive the new one within three to five business days, Stokes said.

The new licenses will be made of laser engraved polycarbonate. All primary photographs are black-and-white, full-faced and displayed on the left side of the cards. A secondary photograph will be displayed in a clear window, visible from the front and back of the cards.

Adults 21 and older will get horizontal cards; 15- to 21-year-olds get a vertical card; and children younger than 15 can get horizontal ID cards. Driver’s licenses will have blue-lettered banners; ID cards, green banners; and children’s ID cards, gold banners.

Cards for people age 21 and over have an image of the Virginia state capitol building. Cards for those under 21 have an image of a dogwood, the state flower, and show the dates the individual turns 18 and 21.

A bar code on the back of the card carries information such as name, customer number, and birth date. A decision to be an organ donor is denoted by a black heart and the words “organ donor.”

The new licenses have several security features, besides being printed at a central location, Stokes said.

“This card will have sophisticated, state-of-the-art security features,” Stokes said.

Current cards consist of layers of plastic on top of each other, and someone willing to invest the time can peel off the top layer, alter information on the card and then re-apply the top layer, Stokes said. The new cards will be polycarbonate with the information and picture engraved into the body of the card with a laser. In addition, the photograph in the clear plastic window will be especially hard to reproduce, as will the images of the capitol building and dogwood in the background. The border of the card will contain micro-lettering, and the cards will include numerous other security features that will be known only to law enforcement, Stokes said.

“It is really kind of exciting to have all these neat security features,” Stokes said.

She stressed it will be especially important for people to have their current addresses on file with DMV, because the new licenses will be mailed to the address on file.

Someone who already has a valid license or ID card does not have to take any action until that card is set to expire. At that point, the person should go to DMV and get a new license like normal, except that he won’t receive his license that day.

“You don’t have to come in and get a new one until yours expires,” Stokes said. “Now that you’re not getting your product that day, come in two weeks in advance.”

The Suffolk DMV office is set to close on Tuesday, June 9, to install the equipment for the new system. It will reopen June 10 ready to do new licenses.

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