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New driver's license law undermines security

"Wow, this doesn't really look like you," said what seemed like the hundredth person examining my driver's license photo.

At 26 years old, my state issued ID showed the picture of a fresh-faced 21-year-old who looked more teenager than adult. My driver's license signature had also morphed and matured as I did, and is now sometimes questioned by businesses comparing my credit card slips to my outdated ID. So, I was excited to get the notice from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration when it was time to renew my license. Time to update all my information, I thought, and to once again have a driver's license in my wallet that resembled the woman who possessed it.

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But that's not what happened. Instead, I was issued an identical copy of my current license, save for the renewed expiration date. It seems a new policy went into effect this spring requiring that eligible drivers under the age of 40 renew their licenses "by mail, online or at a kiosk at an MVA branch" — meaning no updated picture or signature. It was put in place "to increase customer service and decrease in-person wait times," according to the Maryland MVA website.

Despite inquiring as to whether I could wait through the long line, pay extra, or drive out of my way to get an accurate ID, I was told these were not options. I am expected to keep this outdated, yet newly issued, ID until it is time to renew in six years, at which time I will be a woman in my 30s carrying the photo ID of a college senior.

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I reached out to the MVA and was finally contacted by a friendly manager who asked me, "Why wouldn't they just take a new picture of you?" I wondered the same thing. After a few calls back and forth, I was offered the opportunity to correct the information on my ID only after admitting to the MVA manager I had gained, "a significant amount of weight," which, to the MVA, is 20 pounds since my weight was first put on my driver's license 10 years ago. Humiliated, I waited while she called my local MVA branch to inform another manager about my "significant weight gain" so I could go get a new, updated driver's license.

While this new policy may indeed save the MVA time and money, the fact that I was forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops to take a new picture, update my signature, or even fix basic personal information on my state-issued ID makes me wonder what impact this new policy has on our security as a society. Having an accurate state-issued ID is more important than ever in this era of increased safety concerns at airports, sporting events and schools. An accurate ID even matters just to get into a bar. Yet this new MVA policy suggests I could be well into my 40s and still carrying an ID with an image of a young woman who thought pulling all-nighters was actually a good idea.

The distinct contrast between this new policy and the importance of accurate IDs should not be lost on drivers across the state. Is it reasonable to assume we have the same face, the same signature and the same weight as we did when we first passed the parallel parking portion of the Maryland state driver's test? This identification is used for everything from filling out tax forms at a new job to boarding a plane. We use our driver's licenses to confirm who we are. So are we really the same person at 21 as we are at 40?

For those hoping to stay forever young on their ID, this policy may seem like a blessing. But I am waiting for the day a TSA agent doesn't allow me through security because my ID doesn't match the woman in front of them. So I would ask, why the hoops? Why can't Maryland residents get an accurate state-issued ID? And what has to happen before we say, "enough"?

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Carin Morrell is a writer and multimedia specialist who lives in Baltimore County. Her e-mail is carin.morrell@gmail.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

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