Bar codes and magnetic stripes used on California driver's licenses

May 23, 1991|By Chicago Tribune

Underage drinkers, bad check artists and others who rely on false identification may soon find technology making life more difficult.

This spring, California began issuing driver's licenses that are as sophisticated as credit cards and as difficult to duplicate or falsify.

High-tech driver's licenses and state-issued identification cards for non-drivers are part of an expanding technology that allows computers into more areas of everyday life.

Bar codes, long a feature on consumer items to make automated checkout possible, have found an even wider use in keeping track of industrial manufacturing processes. Now, bar codes and magnetic stripes on plastic identification cards are being used more and more to keep track of people as well as products and manufacturing materials.

Like bank credit cards, the California licenses feature holograms that make duplication difficult. Also, they have images of the driver and his signature that are digitized electronic images rather than photographs glued to the document.

On the front of the card, the driver's image appears on the left side if he is an adult and on the right side if he is a minor.

On the back, each plastic license has a magnetic stripe that carries three tracks of information. Track 2 -- containing the birth date of the license holder, driver's license number and expiration date -- is compatible with similar information carried on the backs of credit cards.

Other channels on the magnetic stripe, which cannot be read by commercial equipment, are reserved for information of interest to police.

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