How To Tell If A Driver's License Is Valid

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

While many of us will never have the opportunity to question if someone else's license is valid, it is an important concern for workers at establishments that serve alcohol, sell cigarettes or deliver official documents. Fake I.Ds are common enough that many people who check driver's licenses on a regular basis need to know how to tell if the document they are seeing is valid.

A Driver's License Is An Official Document

Don't let the fact that it fits inside a wallet, is covered in plastic and looks just like a credit card deceive you. A driver's license is a document with a very specific purpose, which is to confirm that the holder a) is who they say they are and 2) is allowed to operate a motor vehicle. The license contains a lot of information in a small amount of space, and if you want to tell if it's valid, make sure that all the information is there.

Information should include the classification of motor vehicle the operator can drive, often designated with initials or letters such as "Class A," or "Class B." It should include identifying information about the person such as their full name, gender, age, height, eye color and race, and it should contain a photograph that looks like the person holding it. A driver's license will also have a unique number. Treat the license like an official document rather than a passkey, and you will have better luck figuring out if it is valid.

Verify Security Formatting

Most states use security formatting such as a holographic seal imprinted in the laminate or kinegraphs that change according to the angle at which you view the driver's license. Still others include biometric information in the ID such as fingerprints or retinal scans, while still more use digital watermarks to identify a secure driver's license. Look up a state's driver's license security formatting and seek out those markers when trying to identify the validity of someone's license.

Other Validity Issues

One common issue is people using expired driver's licenses. While these may work in some instances such as to check a person's age, they are not always appropriate. Use your discretion or ask your employer if you are unsure about whether an expired driver's license is valid for the purpose for which you are checking it.

While the owner of the invalid license will get in trouble, if it is your responsibility to check the validity of a license and you fail to do so, you may get in trouble too.

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