A driver's license is coming to your smartphone after North Dakota gives approval

Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bill into law this week calling for establishment of an electronic driver's license system in the state.

Two bills under consideration in the North Dakota Legislature call for a digital driver's license system. Troy Becker / Forum News Service photo illustration

BISMARCK — North Dakotans will have the option of getting a mobile version of their driver’s license on their smartphone, not too far down the road.

On Monday, April 19, Gov. Doug Burgum signed into law a bill calling for establishment of a mobile or electronic driver’s license system in the state.

House Bill 1072 had been introduced at the request of the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

Driver’s License Division Director Brad Schaffer said he’s pleased that lawmakers and the governor gave the bill the green light.

“The ball’s in our court. We've been approved to do this, so we're extremely excited,” he said.


Due to other priorities in the department, however, electronic driver’s licenses probably won’t roll out in North Dakota until later in 2022, Schaffer said.

Similar legislation was brought up in the 2019 session but did not pass, in part due to its estimated $3.5 million two-year price tag.

This proposal is less costly at approximately $1 million up front for development of the system, he said.

The bill was also amended to charge a $5 fee for issuance and renewal of a mobile driver’s license to help pay for the system.

That amounts to less than a dollar a year per applicant, Schaffer said, because Class D license renewals in North Dakota are required every six years.

Money from those fees will be used for maintenance and security costs for the system going forward, he said.

Schaffer said a mobile driver’s license will be more secure than the current plastic cards.

For example, in a liquor establishment, a person will display information that indicates they’re over 21.


Showing a plastic card allows others to read personal information, including address and date of birth.

Another concern involves displaying an electronic credential during interaction with law enforcement.

The state is looking into a QR code method, where the driver simply scans a barcode from the officer to authorize transmission of the driver’s data.

Schaffer stresses the electronic driver’s license will be voluntary.

Even if drivers do select that option, they’ll still get the usual plastic driver’s license card as well, at least for the time being.

The card ID will still be needed in states that haven’t gotten on board with the system.

Schaffer said states including Iowa, Colorado, Louisiana and Florida are already issuing mobile driver’s licenses and about a dozen other states are just beginning the process, like North Dakota.

Some people have suggested waiting until many more states have adopted the system, but then North Dakota will have no say in the matter.


“We want to be involved in this process because we will help lead the way, the direction the mobile driver's license is going to evolve across the country,” Schaffer said.

If the mobile driver’s license system is successful, he said the state will likely make an electronic option available for hunting and fishing licenses as well.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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