New York State offers an enhanced driver's license

Published 17 September 2008

New York State leads the nation in the adoption of enhanced license technology, and state residents may now apply for an enhanced driver’s license; they have an incentive to do so, because beginning 1 June 2009 U.S. citizens will have to present either a passport or an enhanced driver’s license when re-entering the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean

Are you planning to apply for New York State’s enhanced driver’s license? Make sure yoy do not leave home without the necessary documentation. The Buffalo News’s Tom Buckham writes that Erie County Clerk Kathleen Hochul offered that advice Tuesday as auto bureaus here and across the state began processing applications for the new licenses, which are designed to beef up national security and speed passage at border bridges and seaports. Hochul reported Tuesday night that Erie County’s auto bureaus took in 100 applications on the first day, nearly one-quarter of the total of 432 submitted across the state.

She suggested that the best sites to apply are the auto bureau branches in downtown Buffalo and Cheektowaga. The mobile sites and the Erie Community College-North site will not handle the applications, she added. Each state Department of Motor Vehicles application must be accompanied by proof of citizenship, such as a U. S. passport, birth certificate, certificate of naturalization, certificate of citizenship or U. S. consular report of birth abroad. In addition, an applicant must present two proofs of state residence - for example, a utility bill or a current lease; proof of identity, such as a state driver’s license or learner’s permit; and his or her Social Security card.

A list of proofs is available by visiting the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles’ Web site; ; viewing a county Web site for Erie; or calling the Erie County Auto Bureau customer service center. “Be informed before you come in, and you’ll save yourself a hassle,” Hochul suggested as she, State Motor Vehicles commissioner David Swarts and others gathered at the Peace Bridge to roll out the enhanced driver’s license, or EDL, after 10 months of preparation.

The card resembles a standard license but is slightly thicker because it contains a computer chip that transmits an identification code to U. S. Customs & Border Protection as the holder approaches an inspection checkpoint. That scanned data does not include the Social Security number, date of birth or other private information, said Customs spokesman Kevin Corsaro. The card, he said, contains “numerous security features” that guard against falsification. Swarts and others predicted that the new document, which can be used for land or sea reentry from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, will expedite border crossings and improve the economy, which has suffered from delays at Western New York’s international bridges.

Buckham writes that New York leads the nation in the adoption of enhanced license technology, “the most significant change” since the state introduced photo ID licenses in 1984,” Swarts said. The State of Washington is implementing enhanced licenses on a limited basis, but other states and Canadian provinces are still studying the issue.

Businesses are thankful that the state seized the initiative, said Andrew Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. The enhanced license is a huge improvement over options originally outlined in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a federal program that commercial interests viewed as “one of the worst-conceived policies imaginable,” he said.

At $80 — $50 more than a standard driver’s license, $20 less than a passport — the card “is not too expensive, can be used for all purposes and is readily available,” Rudnick said. “This was always going to be the way you mitigated some of the human issues, and the state turned the program around in an amazingly short period,” he added.

The new licenses “will allow our border communities to thrive without diminishing safety,” Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York), who began pushing for federal approval early last year, said in a statement.

The true value of the enhanced ID will become evident 1 June, when citizens will be required to present a passport or other secure document when re-entering the United States. The card “makes most sense because it is a multiple-use document,” Swarts said. Hochul said, “It’s the smart way to travel.”