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Are digital driver’s licences the way of the future?


Written by:
Sarah Grace
Assistant General Manager, Legal Practice Manager, Senior Associate

Along with everything in our lives, it seems the humble driver’s licence is getting a digital makeover. Recently, New South Wales followed South Australia by rolling out digital driver’s licences. Being hailed as a step to make life easier, the digital licence is generated through a government app and can only be used on a smart phone. It may be the way of the future, but there are some things to consider before adopting the technology.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the digital driver’s licence is a step her government has taken to improve customer experience and make life easier for the people of her state. There’s no doubt that being able to store your driver’s licence in your smart phone is convenient and it will make it more efficient when you’re required to show your licence. However, there are some other things to consider when taking up a digital driver’s licence.

Security and identity theft

Driver’s licences have become one of the most trusted forms of identification, which makes it a prime target for identity theft.

As a driver’s licence is commonly used by agencies such as law enforcement and airport security, as well as for age verification, a range of threats are opened if the ID does fall into the wrong hands. Are they able to track how and where the digital licence is being used as identification? Is the digital licence able to be modified if it falls into the wrong hands? With any new technology, it can pay off to wait until any issues are discovered and dealt with.

How easy or difficult would it be for a potential thief to access the data on the licence? The NSW state government says that the digital licence provides more security against identity theft than a standard licence, as the licence is hosted on a secure app and further secured through PIN access, but as the technology is still new that remains to be proven.

Privacy

When the digital licence was first launched in NSW, there was concern from some people that the app was able to access information on the phone including location, images, calendar events and other files. The government says that an updated version of the app doesn’t request these permissions when downloading the app, and they’re only looking to provide an excellent experience not monitor customers.

If you’re concerned about your privacy and would like to use a digital licence, it’s recommended that you switch-off the permissions and go without the added ‘features’ of the app. As things do change, you should carefully look at any new permission requests that may come in the future and consider what implications they may have to your privacy.

Rights and responsibilities

A digital licence provides some new situations to be aware when you’re required to show your licence to law enforcement or government bodies.

If you’re pulled over by law enforcement while driving, it’s important to remember not to pick up your phone until your vehicle is stationary and you are asked to provide your licence. Otherwise you could be issued an infringement for using a mobile telephone device while operating a motor vehicle.

Your phone remains your property, you do not have to hand it over to anyone. However, you will be required to show your licence on the app when asked in accordance with current legal requirements for a physical licence.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that your phone is charged and that the screen is not cracked, so that your licence can be accessed in the event or an emergency or if you have to provide your ID after a motor vehicle accident.

As with any mobile device, it’s essential for both your safety and that of other road users that you do not use it while driving a motor vehicle.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that your phone is charged and that the screen is not cracked, so that your licence can be accessed in the event or an emergency or if you have to provide your ID after a motor vehicle accident.

In NSW, any driver involved in a motor vehicle accident must stop at the scene and share their details with other drivers involved, any person injured and/or owner of damaged vehicle or property. You should also request the details of any other driver involved. By law you need to provide:

  • the driver's name and address
  • the owner of the car and their address
  • the car's registration number

You should also ask for the driver’s mobile number, the make and model of the car, as well as the details of the insurance policy.

As with any mobile device, it’s essential for both your safety and that of other road users that you do not use it while driving a motor vehicle.

Don't throw away your physical licence just yet, as all venues or institutions are not equipped with the ability to read and recognise the digital licence, you will need to hold on to your physical licence to prove your ID or age in certain situations. So, for the time being, you will still be required to have both a physical and digital driver’s licence.

Other states

While South Australia and New South Wales are the first to adopt digital driver’s licences it appears it won’t be long until the other states and territories follow suit. Queensland is currently conducting a trial on the Fraser Coast, while Western Australia and Victoria are currently considering trials.

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Written by Sarah Grace. Last modified: December 2, 2019.

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