The vertical driver's license 7.10

Written by David Green.

Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and other safety advocates are applauding the success of the state’s vertical driver’s license and ID card program, now in its fifth year.

The Vertical Identification Program, implemented in July 2003, helps to prevent minors from purchasing alcohol, tobacco and other age-restricted products. The Secretary of State’s Office issues driver’s licenses and ID cards in a vertical format to residents under 21. The design provides an instant visual cue for law enforcement and retailers due to its stark contrast to the horizontal licenses used by people 21 and older.

“Keeping young adults safe and healthy ensures a brighter future for them and for Michigan,” Land said. “The vertical ID program is doing its part to help teens avoid the enormous risks that come from alcohol and tobacco use. Its success is due to broad support from parents, policy-makers, safety advocates, retailers and law enforcement. I applaud their commitment to protect Michigan’s teens and families.”  

Everyone under 21 who has a driver’s license or ID card now has them in the vertical format. The state has been replacing horizontal licenses with the vertical ones when minors apply for a license renewal or replacement. More than 731,000 of Michigan’s 8.1 million driver’s licenses and ID cards are in vertical format.

One indicator of the program’s success is the steady decline in convictions under Michigan’s “zero tolerance” law. The law prohibits underage drivers from having any alcohol in their systems. In 2004, the first full year of the vertical license program, there were nearly 1,700 convictions. The number has fallen each year to about 1,340 in 2007.

In addition, Michigan’s recently released Drunk Driving Audit shows that all alcohol- and drug-related traffic fatalities are at their lowest point in more than 10 years.

The program has proved to be a valuable tool in law enforcement’s efforts to protect teens and keep roads safe, according to the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association (MSA), one of the initiative’s original supporters.

“The great part about this program is that it’s quantifiable,” said Terrence L. Jungel, MSA executive director. “Prevention is often difficult to measure, but with this issue, it’s all in the data. We know we have saved lives, and not just the teen drivers. We have also protected the motoring public who share the roadway with our teens.”   

Michigan retailers also advocated for the program and continue to be enthusiastic about its benefits. They still participate in the “We Check to Protect” public awareness campaign to highlight the vertical ID law. The campaign was unveiled by Land and vertical ID supporters in 2003.

“This is a great success story for business, law enforcement and the general public. Everyone wins,” said James P. Hallan, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Retailers Association. 

The vertical license clearly lists the dates when the license-holder turns ages 18 and 21, and includes other security features such as the date of birth that overlaps a second photo of the license-holder, or “ghost” image, to prevent tampering with the date of birth.

Michigan’s vertical ID program was created by Public Acts 553 and 554 of 2002.

More than 20 states have vertical ID programs.

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