Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Could I see your driver's license?"

So said my bank teller about a month ago, while I was picking up a money order to pay ye olde rent. In yet another example of the cultural expectation that every adult citizen drives regularly, we have allowed driver's licenses to become our society's primary form of identification. In reality, though, it's nobody's business whether or not you have earned driving privileges unless you happen to be behind the wheel of a motor vehicle on public roads; asking for a driver's license when we mean to ask for identification is another slight against non-drivers, and another reminder of the automobile's hegemony in our lives. To say "I don't have a license, here's my ID" feels like admitting some failure, or at the very least some aberration that sets you apart from polite society.

Furthermore, it can have rather inconvenient practical consequences. My last driver's license was issued right around the time that the state was switching over to the new, super-secure design-- and they were having severe production backlogs. I applied for my renewal in late September, a month before the expiration date in late October. I figured that should be plenty of time, as prior plastic bits from the DMV had arrived to me within a week or so. Wrong-- I finally got the thing in early December. During the entire time I was walking around with an expired driver's license, I kept calling the DMV about the status of my renewal, and they kept giving me the same answer: "Oh, don't worry, if you get pulled over you'll come up as valid in the computer." Never mind that I couldn't bank or buy beer. (I actually started carrying my passport, but I feel bad for those in the same situation who didn't have a passport.)

So on that particular day last month, when that teller asked that same lame question, I decided that my answer henceforth would be "no." I left the bank, went to Rite Aid, got my photo taken, and sent off my application for this:

This is my passport card. It's only valid for land and sea travel to the US' nearest neighbors, trips that I can't say I take very often, but it's also a valid government-issued photo ID that fits in my wallet. If anyone other than a traffic police officer asks to see my ID, this is what they're going to get, because whether or not I can drive is none of their damned business. I hope to help normalize the use of non-driving identity cards, because we're hopefully going to see more non-drivers, and they're going to need them.


Anonymous said...

You can also get a California state id card:

It's issued by the DMV, which you might be ideologically opposed to, but anyone of any age, whether they drive or not, can get one. I used to carry one before I turned 16.

JN said...

I'm aware of the existence of the state ID cards, my wife carried one for a long time. (See this post: However, I've heard that the DMV is unwilling to issue non-driving ID to those who already possess a valid driver's license. I assume that this is due to fears of fraud. I can't find an authoritative source of law or policy on this issue for California, though. Division 6, Chapter 1, Article 5 of the CVC doesn't appear to explicitly bar such issuance (, but CVC 13000 says that the department "may" issue ID cards, implying relatively broad bureaucratic discretion.

Other states have firm policies on this. In Michigan, for example, you *cannot* have both a driver's license and a non-driving state ID. In Illinois, you explicitly *can* have both. If you know of anyone who has gotten both in California I'd be interested in hearing about their experience.


I thought I was the only one!!!!

I have never driven my entire life. An American that has lived abroad most his life, I have never lived in a nation that REQUIRES one to drive. Every time I return to the USA, it's always a hassle.

They ID me for beer. What country IDs a 40 year old with a white beard for beer? Anyways, where I live in NY, they require a Driver License. Why do I need to learn how to drive and buy a car to buy a beer? WTF?

It's asked for everywhere. Banks, schools, by cops(for suspiciously walking), apartments, everywhere. I can't stand it!

"Can I see your driver's license?" "For what?" "Because I need to see it!" "I don't drive." "What do you mean you don't drive? I've never heard of that in my life." "Well, I'm sorry you don't get out more, but now you learned something new today." "Well, I can't cash this check without a driver's license". "Um, it's 'driver license' I don't have one and know what it's called. Why would I need to learn to drive in order to cash a check?" "That's the LAW sir!"

I have a NY State Non-Driver ID, Veteran's Identification Card, Military ID, Japan Alien Card, Philippine Alien Card, Social Security Card from 3 countries(only the US in not a photo ID), Tax Identification Number ID, United Nations Postal ID, 3 company IDs with RFID, US Passport Card, and several others.

NONE are ever accepted! Everyone wants a Driver License! Why is that required in the USA?

Sorry. This is very frustrating. Great post. Glad I'm not the only one that this bothers. You should expand this blog post and go into greater detail.



You cannot have two IDs from the DMV.

However, why should the Department of MOTOR VEHICLES be in charge of you buying beer and banking?

JN said...

True to my word in the above post, I now carry only my passport card when I'm out and about (unless I'm driving, of course-- I keep my DL in my motorcycle jacket). Most people make kind of a weird face when they see it, and take a second to find my birth date, but I haven't yet had it refused. I had one cashier at WinCo ask "Where's this from?" "Um, the US State Department?"

younitehumanity said...

How did you get a passport card with 5 stars on it? How did you fill out your DS-11?