BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Starting in July, drivers licenses could look different in New York State. The obvious difference is the color change and the picture going to black and white. The final design hasn't been finished, but the company who produces the license says they are virtually impossible to counterfeit. This should cut down the availability of fake licenses for crossing borders and underage drinking.
The announcement of the contract for manufacturing the new licenses sparked a controversy because the winning company's bid was $38 million higher than the next bid. Many local politicians on both sides of the aisle said the black and white image made them see red.
New York State Senator George Maziarz said, "It just doesn't make sense. I mean they're going with the highest bidder instead of the lowest bidder."
New York State Assemblyman Robin Schimminger said, "I scratched my head. Being a person of good faith, I just assumed that there was some good explanation."
Eventually lawmakers eased up when they learned how advanced the new licenses will be.
The images are laser engraved onto a hard polycarbonate. According to a document obtained by News 4 from the Erie County Clerk, each element of the license is fused together so that they cannot be separated or tampered with.
Personal data is engraved onto the license, a small "ghost portrait" of the driver will be visible from the front and back. The new cards will also hard and unbendable, unlike current licenses.
News 4 asked bar and restaurant owner Jay Manno who is also the President of the Buffalo Entertainment District, how some fake IDs compare.
Manno said, "Ridiculous, they're almost fool proof. I've literally seen IDs get past law enforcement."
Just last year News 4 went undercover in Toronto to show viewers just how easy it is to buy a fake license. There's also plenty of websites showing how easy it is to get fakes.
One YouTube video said, "Forget buying one of these low-quality IDs. Instead, we have the solution. Our service has helped countless people for over ten years to get the perfect fake ID to suit their own personal individual needs."
Manno says the problem is so bad, on busier nights, he won't even consider letting someone in with an out of state license and he confiscates any phony IDs that he finds.
Manno said, "If it looks like a night where there's a lot of young people down here and a lot of people are using fake IDs, most of these IDs coming out of Canada, the one that I took, was a Florida ID."
Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs says New York licenses are also faked, and it's time them to change.
Jacobs said, "It's just been around long enough that people have figured out how to counterfeit. The license right now is easier to separate and peel apart to change. This new engraved, encrypted technology they're using is going to make it much, much harder; virtually impossible to do that sort of tampering."
Jacobs also says with an international border and New York City, the state needs to be ahead of the curve. Currently only Virginia uses a similar license.
Technologies aside, the county clerk still has concerns about the new licenses. Currently we renew our licenses every eight years. There will be no obligation to get a new photo.
"So conceivably, somebody could get a photo at 16, and when their license comes up, we get this new technology and now they're in their 40s or 50s and they keep the same picture."
Another concern, if a person gets their license just before the new one is issued, the old one could be in circulation for the full eight years until a renewal is needed.
He believes the previous IDs will be in circulation too long. Which doesn't help the underage drinking problem.
Chris Jacobs says he has sent a letter to New York's DMV Commissioner about his concerns, but so far has not heard back. The new licenses cost more, so that means taxpayers will be seeing a slight increase, but there is ongoing litigation. The new licenses will start to come out in July.
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