Enhanced Driver's Licenses - What They Are and Where to Get Them

Written by Staff Writer

Four states are already issuing what is known as Enhanced Driver's Licenses (EDLs). These licenses contain radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, and those who hold these special licenses are entered into a data base maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

As of now, four states on the Canadian border, Michigan, New York, Vermont, and Washington, participate in Enhanced Driver's Licenses to aid in border crossing from the US to Canada. Those with an EDL do not need to show a passport when crossing the border; instead the RFID chip is read by a reader at the border patrol station which instantly lets the agent know the person is approved to pass through which cuts down on border-crossing wait times for everyone.

The rules for obtaining an EDL are slightly different for each of the four states:

Michigan: As long as there are no violations on your Michigan driver's license that would prevent you from otherwise legally operating a motor vehicle, you can be upgrade to an EDL. To apply you must go to a Secretary of State office for the following:

  • Show a valid Social Security Number, US Citizenship, Identity and Michigan Residency
  • Take a new photograph
  • Pay a $45 fee

New York: New York driver's license holders can upgrade their current driver's license to an EDL by visiting their local DMV. To apply you will need:

  • Proof of Social Security Number
  • Proof of Name
  • Proof of New York Residency
  • Pay a $30 enhanced document fee and $12.50 document processing fee.

Vermont: Vermont residents who are also US citizens may apply for an EDL. Currently not all Vermont DMVs are issuing EDLs, so be sure to check http://dmv.vermont.gov/licenses/enhanced/general_infofor a list of offices that do issue them. To apply, bring with you:

  • A completed ELD Application
  • Current operator license
  • Proof of Social Security Number, Identity, US Citizenship and Vermont Residency
  • Pay a $25 EDL fee, in addition to the standard driver's license fee (fees vary depending on whether you are renewing, changing, or obtaining your first license).

Washington:Washington state residents can obtain an EDL as long as they meet the requirements for a Washington intermediate driver license, which is the license new drivers typically apply for. In Washington you will need:

  • Proof of Citizenship, Identity, and Washington Residency
  • Your social security number (card is not needed)
  • Cash, check or accepted credit card to pay a fee, $15 for upgrading to an EDL, $35 for a first time EDL.

California, Arizona, and Texas driver's licenses may soon be enhanced as well, which would make crossing the US-Mexico border easier for American citizens. Each of these states is currently weighing the best options for supplying the cards and what it would mean for border control.

California was close to approving EDLs, the legislation had moved past the senate, but privacy concerns have halted the measure. Advocates for privacy worry the RFID chip could be used to track and store more information than citizens realize, and there was nothing in the legislation preventing

California law enforcement from accessing the chips. If the legislation can be rewritten to address these concerns, California driver's licensesmay soon have an EDL option.

The Department of Homeland Security states on their website that no personally identifiable information is on the card's RFID chip. When scanned, it uses a unique ID number linked to information contained in a secure DHS database. The EDL also comes with a shielded sleeve that prevents anyone from reading your license without your knowledge.

The technology for border patrol to read these licenses is already in place: more than 95 percent of border crossings are through the top 39 land ports. All of these ports are already equipped with RFID readers which read passports in addition to EDLs.

The DHS is also working with Canadian provincial and federal officials to issue Canadian EDLs that would allow Canadian citizens entry into the US without a passport. So far, the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec are issuing EDLs to its residents.

Using RFID technology, driver's licenses are getting a technological boost that will also save time at American borders. EDLs will also allow people whose main travel is to Canada or Mexico save money and time on obtaining a passport, since the EDL will serve as both their license and ID that allows for border crossing. As this technology becomes more widely used, and more states and countries opt-in to EDL technology, we may one day only need an EDL for any identification purposes.