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California DMV now offers ‘digital’ driver’s licenses. How to get your ID on your phone

A sample california driver's license card with a man's picture
The state Department of Motor Vehicles provided an example of a California driver’s license card. | Source: California Department of Motor Vehicles

California drivers can now enroll in a DMV pilot program to put a “digital” driver's license on their mobile phones.

The digital licenses are considered valid forms of identification at TSA PreCheck lines at about two dozen airports across the United States, including San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Jose International Airport (SJC).

But can you use it to buy booze? Not really, not yet.

The Department of Motor Vehicles says law enforcement officers, state government agencies and businesses are not yet accepting the digital licenses. That means holders cannot generally use them as proof of age when buying alcohol or cigarettes or other age-restricted products.

Screenshots of a phone showing a blue background and drivers license info
Source: Courtesy California DMV

California’s pilot program is limited to 1.5 million people and is available for both Apple and Android-based phones. 

To enroll, first download the app to your phone. Next, create a DMV account or log in to your account. 

After that, you will be prompted to scan your driver's license and then take a selfie.

If the DMV’s system can validate that your photo matches your scanned ID card, it will deliver a digital copy of your driver's license to the app.

Although the digital licenses are not yet well-known among bars, restaurants and liquor stores, the DMV in promoting the initiative says it is also launching an age verification program called TruAge that provides enrollees with a QR Code that proves their age. The program is being tested at five Circle K mini-marts in the Sacramento area. 

The DMV said usage of the mobile driver's licenses is not tracked. "The mDL provides accurate, secure proof of identity to the businesses you interact with and lowers the potential for fraud and identity theft,” the DMV said. 

Julie Makinen can be reached at jmakinen@sfstandard.com