Nevada's first digital drivers' licenses were issued Tuesday in an unannounced test run at the tiny Minden Department of Motor Vehicles office.
DMV spokesman Tom Jacobs said officials wanted to test the process in the field before the formal start of the digital licensing system at the busy Galletti Way office in Reno on Friday.
"As of now, we've probably issued a couple dozen of them," he said. "I was the eighth one."
The digital licenses, including picture, have been in the works for several years, DMV Director Ginny Lewis said. She said the new licenses are harder to fake, more durable and quicker to produce.
Jacobs said because the new licenses are printed as a unit much like a credit card, they will help prevent ID theft because they are much more difficult to forge.
And Lewis pointed out that they are also designed to help combat the problems of underage drivers buying alcoholic beverages, since juveniles will have their drivers' licenses printed vertically on the card instead of horizontally. And juvenile licenses carry a bright yellow band bearing the date the driver turns 21.
On the back, the new licenses have a bar code that can be read by a scanner containing all the information printed on the front of the card.
Lewis said law enforcement officers and even merchants can scan that code to determine whether a license has been altered.
The new license is $1.25 more expensive, but Jacobs said the system isn't costing the state a dime. That money offsets the cost of the system through a contract with Digimarc Corp. in Oregon. In trade for that cost, they provide the equipment, training, maintenance and supplies to run the licensing system. She said that's the same deal the state had with the company that provided the existing laminated licenses.
The system will be in operation in Reno on Friday and in Carson City and Sparks on May 13. It will go on line in Las Vegas beginning May 20 and, according to Jacobs, 21 major DMV offices by the end of May.
In those areas, the process of getting or renewing a license will remain about the same.
But in smaller rural areas now served by a mobile DMV system, the process will change because the equipment needed to print the new licenses isn't portable. In those areas, Lewis said, motorists will get a paper license and their digitized license will be mailed to them after the mobile team returns to the main office to print out licenses.