License shape to change for those under 21

Georgia plans to implement vertical driver’s licenses for folks under 21.

Susan Sports, public information officer for the Georgia Department of Driver Services, said the new vertical licenses may be ready to roll out by early next year.

All Georgia licenses are now in a horizontal format.

The vertical licenses for those ages 18, 19 and 20 are part of the overall redesign of the Georgia driver’s license now under development, Sports said.

The move to vertical licenses for those under 21 came in part in response to law enforcement officers wanting to curb underage drinking, she said.

Warner Robins police Lt. Lance Watson, whose job includes organizing undercover checks on convenience stores, restaurants and bars for underage alcohol sales, said the new vertical licenses will help tremendously.

“That should cut out the human error,” Watson said. “It’s plain and simple. It’s either square or rectangle.”

The vertical license will also include new tamper resistant features and protective measures for personal information, Sports said.

Several other states have vertical licenses for those under 21, including Michigan, which debuted its vertical licenses in July 2003.

The vertical license provides a “nice visual cue” for retailers, restaurants and bar owners to keep age-restricted products, such as alcohol and tobacco out of the hands of minors, said Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

“It clearly was to help improve the health and safety of Michigan youth,” Chesney said.

The vertical license, now in place for nearly six years, has been heralded a success, Chesney added.

She noted a steady decline in convictions under Michigan’s “zero-tolerance” law that prohibits underage drivers from having any alcohol in their systems.

In 2004, which marked the first full year of issuance of vertical licenses, there were about 1,700 convictions under the zero tolerance law, which dropped by nearly 400 by 2007, Chesney said.

Also, a Drunk Driving Audit released in 2008 by the state of Michigan showed all alcohol-and-drug-related traffic fatalities at their lowest point in more than a decade, according to a Michigan secretary of state news release touting the vertical licenses.

When Michigan adopted the vertical licenses, parents of those under 21 whose kids already had licenses were given the option of having their teens trade in the old horizontal license for the new vertical license at any secretary of state branch office free of charge, Chesney said.

“It gives parents a peace of mind and confidence in knowing their kids are carrying an identification card that will help ensure their well being,” Chesney said.

The vertical licenses were also embraced by retailers, restaurant and bar owners as protection from the liability of someone making an underage purchase, Chesney said.

What made the Michigan adoption of the vertical licenses so successful was broad-based support from all sorts of groups from law enforcement to retailers to Mothers Against Drunk Driving as well as an educational and promotional campaign that familiarized folks with the new licenses, Chesney said.

Although he didn’t have an exact figure, many states have adopted vertical licenses for those under 21, said Geoffrey G. Slagle, director of identification standards for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

“It is a good idea and can bring to the attention of someone interacting with the cardholder that they’re a minor,” Slagle said in a e-mail. “The main reason for going to a vertical format was to dissuade manipulation tactics.”

For example, an attempt might be made to alter the date of birth and make it appear that person is older, he said.

“Theoretically, the vertical licenses help to combat this as the intent is for the cardholder to then obtain a horizontal formatted license when they turn 21,” Slagle said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 923-3109, extension 243.