TN lawmakers explore digital DL use, put off school bus belt review

Tennessee lawmakers are advancing a bill that would let you access your drivers license through your smartphone.

In other transportation-related legislation, they've delayed for a week a bill that would begin requiring seat belts on school buses.

On Wednesday, a state House committee endorsed legislation that recommends the Department of Safety look into digital license options in Tennessee.

Other states including Delaware and Iowa have already started working toward that new ID option.

It would allow people to flash their ID on a smartphone instead of using a physical ID.

Delaware officials are eager to try the idea.

"We'd like to go first," said Jennifer Cohan, director of the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles and the governor's nominee for secretary of transportation in January. "If it works for Delaware, then it will be a new option for Delaware citizens to show proof of driver's license and identification."

The Delaware Legislature in January adopted a resolution directing Cohan's agency to study and consider digital licenses for motorists.

Iowa, which shares a driver's license vendor with Delaware and 40 other states, is crafting a pilot program, followed by the rollout of an app in 2016. The vendor, MorphoTrust USA, began working on a concept two years ago for a mobile app to carry a digital version of driver's licenses.

"It's an idea whose time has come," said Jenny Openshaw, the company's vice president for state and local sales.

"Smartphones are becoming more and more a digital wallet. Eventually, the last piece of plastic I need to carry around with me is a driver's license."

The Delaware DMV would not eliminate hard plastic licenses. Customers would have the option of having a digital version, in addition to the "hard copy" of their license, officials said.

Last year, the state began allowing motorists to show electronic proof of insurance during traffic stops. Many consumers already use smartphone-based payment systems to avoid carrying cash or credit cards.

Legal and cybersecurity experts have raised concerns about privacy and data security, such as what information the apps will collect or be exchanged during transmission. The technology is also limited by the availability of cellphone service.

Also Wednesday, lawmakers pushed back by a week a bill proposal that would require seat belts on school buses. It arose following a fatal bus crash in East Knoxville on Asheville Highway.

State Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, filed the bill in February.

On Wednesday, lawmakers were scheduled to hear the proposal in Nashville but didn't have time for the full presentation.

The bill would require any bus ordered or purchased on or after July 20-16 to have a restraint system. Buses already in use would need to install seat belts by July 20-23.

Two Knox County elementary school students and a teacher's aide died in the school bus crash in December. The buses involved did not have seat belts.


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