A North Dakota digital driver's license, coming soon to your smartphone?

Moving driver's licenses into the digital realm is coming, according to the North Dakota's driver's license division director.

A bill submitted to the North Dakota Legislature calls for a digital driver's license system. At least seven states, including Iowa, have already started establishing such systems. Troy Becker / Forum News Service photo illustration

BISMARCK — Residents would be able to access their driver’s license on their smartphone under two bills to be considered by North Dakota lawmakers.

The mobile driver’s license could be used for identification and age verification and when a driver is stopped by law enforcement; for example, in the case of a traffic violation.

Driver’s License Division Director Brad Schaffer said this electronic system is the direction things are headed.

“We want to be innovative, and from what we've seen with other models, it looks like it's going to be extremely successful,” he said.

House Bill 1072 was introduced by the Transportation Committee at the request of the North Dakota Department of Transportation.


A similar measure, House Bill 1168, was introduced by a mostly Republican contingent, including Rep. Tom Kading of Fargo.

“Everyone always has their phone on them. If you forget your driver’s license, this allows for flexibility,” Kading said.

Similar legislation was brought up in the 2019 session but did not pass.

As many as 10 states are considering digital driver’s licenses and nearly a half dozen are already in some stage of production, including Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado and Louisiana, Schaffer said.

“We’re learning a lot from what those states are doing,” he said.

The electronic driver’s license would be accessed through a PIN, or personal identification number, or through facial recognition technology.

It would be less vulnerable to fraud and counterfeiting than the current plastic card credential, Schaffer said, and if a person’s phone was lost or stolen, their electronic license could be deleted remotely and the person would be issued a new digital version.

Important information for law enforcement could be automatically updated on a person’s digital license, Kading said, including whether the driver has a suspended license or was recently arrested for DUI.


One concern with law enforcement interactions is whether a person would ever have to hand over their phone to an officer to display their driver’s credential.

Not the case, Schaffer said.

The state is looking into a QR code method, where the driver would scan a type of barcode from the officer to authorize transmission of the driver’s data.

Another method would allow an officer to "ping" your phone, and you’d receive a notification requesting the driver-specific data.

Plastic driver’s licenses would continue to be issued in North Dakota for some time, Schaffer said.

They’d still be needed in other states that haven’t adopted the digital license technology.

There isn’t a firm cost estimate for this transition, Schaffer said. Some states are getting it done for about $3 million, while others are doing it for less.

Whatever the case, the technology is coming.


“In a nutshell, most things are going digital. It’s a good issue to look at as a state,” Kading said.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
What To Read Next
Get Local