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Virginians Can Now Legally Smile for Their Licenses

That trip to the DMV is about to get a little less awful

Smile! You're at the DMV! (Mario Castello/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

There are plenty of reasons to hate the DMV, from confusing forms to long wait times. But now, Virginians who sit down for their license photos have a reason to smile instead—the UPI reports that Virginia has reversed its controversial “neutral expression” policy.

Blame technology for Virginia’s joyless licenses of late: In 2009, the state was one of four that adopted a no-smile rule because of facial recognition technology that malfunctioned when presented with grins. At the time, USA Today’s Thomas Frank reported that Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia used software that could not compare smiling photos of an individual to other photos of the same person. 

Virginia is one of 38 states that use facial recognition technology to prevent driver’s license fraud, reports the Pew Charitable Trusts. Though the technology has ignited privacy concerns, officials say it allows them to make licenses more secure, prosecute fraudsters and prevent identity theft.

Improved facial recognition systems finally prompted Virginia to reverse its anti-smile stance. UPI reports that advances in technology means it’s no longer necessary to stay staid in front of the camera. In a release about the new policy, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles writes that as a result, customers can now smile however they want for the camera.

The state is encouraging customers who want smiling license photos to pay a replacement fee and get a grinning picture instead. That is, if they can get over the grueling experience of going to the DMV in the first place: Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that though the average wait time in Virginia DMVs is 24 minutes, more populous areas have much longer waits—which likely has something to do with the fact that a fifth of people who go to the DMV in Virginia don’t actually need to be there in the first place.

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