Colorado State Patrol troopers began accepting digital driver’s licenses as proof of official ID during traffic stops this week after a pilot program that resulted in officers spending less time on the side of the road, which in turn, increased their personal safety.
The program has been in the works for more than a year, after an executive order from Gov. Jared Polis to promote the adoption of digital technology all over the state. But when driver’s licenses were added to the state’s myColorado mobile app last fall, law enforcement wasn’t ready to adopt it.
It wasn’t out of concern for fake IDs, however. The trigger for law enforcement adoption was personal safety, said Trooper Josh Lewis, a State Patrol spokesman. Troopers don’t need to touch a plastic license — or see the actual digital ID. Instead, drivers use the mobile app to scan in the officer’s specific QR code. The officer then pulls up the driver’s information in the patrol vehicle’s computer.
Lewis said State Patrol conducted a month-long test in the Denver metro area and in western Colorado during which they tried “to break it to see where the problems are,” he said. (One change was to let the driver use their phone camera to scan the officer’s QR code to launch the app, instead of wasting time trying to find the app on their phone.)
While only about 10% of drivers stopped had a digital ID, troopers spent an average of 10% less time processing information during the stop.
“It makes us more efficient,” Lewis said. “Again, it comes down to a safety aspect. The less time we’re on the side of the road whether inside or outside of a vehicle, the less danger all of us are (in) as a result.”
Colorado is one of the first states where a law enforcement agency accepts digital driver’s licenses. Louisiana state police also accept a digital version.
All 800 uniformed troopers will be trained on the digital app and the technology will also be used for crash investigations, Lewis said.
What clicked was the difference in time. Officers typically complete a traffic stop for drivers with a regular polycarbonate driver’s license in 5 minutes and 20 seconds. With the digital ID, it was as fast as 3 minutes and 3 seconds, said Russell Castagnaro, director of digital transformation at the Governor’s Office of Information Technology.
“Granted, that (faster time is) somebody who actually knows what they’re doing with the app,” Castagnaro said. “We had a lot of different use cases but that’s a big improvement of getting somebody off the road when so many police officers are killed on the side of the road.”
Castagnaro, who oversaw the app’s development, said his office wanted to help reduce pain points for law enforcement. And counterfeit IDs wasn’t one of them because officers can look up the driver’s information in their database for verification.
“Now what is a big issue is fat fingers,” Castagnaro said. “Some of them have touchscreens, some of them have keyboards and so they misspell somebody’s name or mistype somebody’s number in a ticket. We made it so all they have to do is touch a field, copy it and paste it directly into another field. That’s one of the things that saves them time.”
Digital driver’s licenses have been in test mode for several years. Colorado participated in a pilot program by Gemalto in 2016 along with Idaho, Maryland and Washington, D.C. But Colorado ended up building its own system because it wanted more than a digital ID app.
Colorado officials worked with Ping Identity in Denver and ProofID in Colorado Springs to build in two-factor authentication. The Colorado digital driver’s license is difficult to counterfeit because it’s not just a static image. It has a holographic picture of a Columbine flower that rotates as the phone rotates while the license stays still. When in question, an officer can ask that the driver relaunch the app.
But Colorado digital IDs aren’t yet accepted by many local police and sheriff’s offices, so drivers must still carry their plastic IDs.
And only a fraction of the state’s 4 million people with a Colorado driver’s license have downloaded the digital version, which also isn’t approved for out-of-state use, air travel or by federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration.
State officials, however, said 20 local law enforcement agencies are interested in testing out the digital IDs starting in January.
Coloradans can download the app for Android or iPhones, and will need to take a picture of their face and match it to their ID on file. When the app launched last year, consumers could use their digital ID to register for a fishing or hunting license and store vehicle registration information in the secure app. It’s up to the consumer to share personal information, such as an address, with any business or even State Patrol.
More than 300 restaurants, bars, businesses and state agencies now accept the state’s digital ID as proof of identification. You can also renew your driver’s license through the app.
But because so few accept it, carrying your plastic ID is a must for now.
As citizens and officers get used to storing their IDs digitally, there will come a time when you don’t need to carry both, Lewis said.
“That’s ultimately the goal of what we’re going for is being able to have digital everything,” Lewis said. “But how quickly we see that, that‘s still obviously up for debate.”