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ALBANY, N.Y. -- Changes could be coming to New York State driver's licenses and the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), for one, is not happy about it.
News came to light the other day that the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) tentatively awarded a contract to produce driver's licenses to CBN Secure Technology of Ottawa, Ontario. The contract is drawing criticism from any -- and has even drawn the attention of the state comptroller's office -- because the CBN Secure Technology's bid came in the highest at $88.5 million at a time when the state and the DMV are facing serious budget woes, according to the New York Post.
In a statement on the department's website, Commissioner Barbara J. Fiala said three companies responded to the DMV's request for proposal, and two were "not selected because their products were inferior with respect to document security and anti-tampering measures that are standard for licenses. Since the driver license serves as a de facto national identification card, it is extremely important that the documents we provide the citizens of New York are the most secure and least able to be altered or counterfeited. We are confident that the vendor we have chosen will provide the best value for the citizens of New York."
However, NYACS is raising objections to the move for an entirely different reason -- the contract would only provide black-and-white photos instead of the current color photos. That switch could hinder efforts of retail stores to prevent underage sales of alcohol and tobacco, the association said.
"The New York State driver's license is the most common form of ID presented to our stores to verify the age of a beer or tobacco customer," said NYACS President James Calvin. "We respect the cost and security factors influencing this procurement decision, but the public policy goal of preventing youth access to age-restricted products needs to be considered as well."
The process of examining someone's ID at the counter to verify their age includes visually matching the photo to the customer standing in front of you. "Not being able to discern hair color, for example, would make it harder for the cashier to determine if it's a match," he added.
In addition, store clerks are trained not only to check the date of birth on the driver's license, in order to verify the person's age, but also to check the expiration date, which is always printed in red. By law, an expired license is not an acceptable form of ID for alcohol or tobacco purchases -- even if it indicates the person is of legal age, according to NYACS.
"Even more significantly, New York driver's licenses issued to those age 20 or younger scream 'Under 21' in red along the right-hand side, and their date of birth is printed in red as well, which helps busy cashiers instantly spot an underage customer," Calvin explained. "For years, key features of our state driver's licenses have been printed in red for a reason, and that reason still exists."
Ongoing efforts by state and local enforcement agencies, along with voluntary efforts by retailers, have driven down underage sales in New York State, according to the association. Notable, the statewide percentage of stores caught selling tobacco to minors dropped from 13 percent in 2000 to 5.9 percent in 2010, according to the New York State Department of Health.
"To keep moving forward in fulfilling our commitment to prevent underage sales of beer and tobacco, the convenience store industry needs every tool at our disposal, including color driver's licenses," Calvin said. "We hope this decision will be revisited."
DMV spokesperson Jackie McGinnis told the Times Union that only the photo -- and not the entire driver' license -- would be in black and white. The black-and-white photos are embedded rather than color photos that rest on the surface of the card. That provides more tamper resistance and security, McGinnis noted.