N.J. to start new drivers licenses in summer

Digitized photos will make documents harder to counterfeit

January 19, 2003|By David Kocieniewski | David Kocieniewski,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TRENTON, N.J. - Seeking to end New Jersey's unwelcome status as a state with an easily counterfeited driver's license, the State Division of Motor Vehicles will begin issuing "tamper-proof" licenses with digitized photos this summer, state transportation officials have announced.

In a move likely to intensify Gov. James E. McGreevey's dispute with Republican lawmakers over how to pay for the new licenses, the Division of Motor Vehicles said it would be unable to make additional changes to improve security unless the Legislature approves the governor's proposal to raise the license renewal fee to $24 from $16.

The state had originally planned to begin issuing the new licenses next year, but the bankruptcy of Polaroid has caused a shortage in photo film, and New Jersey's film supplier said it was not sure it could ship any after March.

"It would be irresponsible for us not to do something when we know we are running out of film," said Diane Legreide, the agency director.

Fraudulent New Jersey licenses are common on the black market because the state is one of only four that still issue paper licenses encased in plastic. Digitizing the photos allows the state to manipulate the image in ways that are difficult for counterfeiters to copy.

After the World Trade Center attack, elected officials began claiming, erroneously, that two of the terrorists had fake New Jersey licenses, and in the 16 months since, state leaders have pledged to overhaul the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Last fall, McGreevey and his transportation commissioner, James P. Fox, released a $200 million plan to change the licensing system and bolster the security of the Division of Motor Vehicles, which the governor has attacked as a "model of inefficiency."

The governor's proposal was blocked last month by Republican state senators who argued that the agency already collects $700 million more in fees than it spends. The governor and Democratic lawmakers say that the state has long used license fees to cover other expenses.

Whether or not the bill is passed, Legreide said, her agency will start issuing digitized licenses in July at four regional service centers: in Trenton, Wayne, West Deptford and Eatontown.

Legreide said that if the additional funds are approved, the agency would be able to issue the new licenses at dozens of other offices.

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