Vermont ‘enhanced licenses’ available in January

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(Host) Vermonters may find it easier to cross the Canadian border about six months from now by flashing an “enhanced drivers’ license.”

An Oregon company has been awarded a contract to produce the IDs.

But concerns remain that federal restrictions along the border are going to be bad for business.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) The Department of Motor Vehicles has signed a contract with Digimarc, which already produces Vermont’s traditional drivers’ licenses.

The new licenses will include a computer chip that will instantly tell border guards a person’s identity and citizenship.

Motor Vehicles Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge says the state and Digimarc will run a few tests later this year to make sure the technology works.

(Rutledge) "So we will be doing a handful of them before that but they will start being available to the general public around mid-January.”

(Sneyd) State officials expect demand for enhanced drivers’ licenses to be strong among people who travel frequently between Vermont and Canada.

That’s because this winter, U.S. officials stopped accepting travelers’ word about their identity and nationality when they arrived at the border.

Instead, people have to show a passport, or a photo ID and a birth certificate before they can cross the border.

The enhanced license will replace the need for a passport and should shorten the amount of time people have to wait at the border.

DMV issues 600,000 IDs and drivers licenses. The state expects at least 30% of them will be replaced by the new, enhanced version, even though it will cost $25 more.

Business leaders say they’re glad that Vermonters might be able to breeze through border crossings by this winter.

But Tim Shea of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce says businesses worry that Canadian visitors will still face delays – and might just stay away.

(Shea) "What we’ve always known that Canadians come here by choice. And there has to be the predictability and the convenience for them to get across the border for them to keep coming. Obviously border security is important to all of us here. But we always want to make it convenient for our Canadian friends to be able to get down here.”

(Sneyd) The DMV’s Bonnie Rutledge says she’s confident that Canadians will be able to travel back and forth to the United States.

She says Quebec and Ontario have begun to develop enhanced drivers’ license programs of their own. So have other states. New York officials would like to begin issuing the enhanced IDs by the end of the summer.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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