The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that digital driving licences are on their way, with provisional digital licences to be offered by 2024 and full digital licences following at a later date. But what does this latest example of digitisation mean for the drivers of the UK? And will the changes finally bring the administration associated with vehicle ownership into the 21st-century?
The DVLA app
To make driving licenses digital, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) intends to park physical driving licences and create a smartphone app where digital licences can be stored and displayed. The DVLA has said that it is “committed to developing a digital provisional licence by 2024”, although it also points out that exactly how that will be implemented is still under consideration.
It has been suggested that the app will take the form of a digital wallet, which are already being used to store debit cards, credit cards, train tickets and discount cards online. With most drivers carrying a smartphone with them wherever they go these days, that could prove to be a very convenient next step.
As with all things digital, security is a major concern, particularly when dealing with something as sensitive as a driving licence. The good news is that with digital payments on smartphones now commonplace, the framework is already in place to secure this type of app, with authorisation available through the licence holder’s fingerprint or a passcode.
Initially, plastic driving licences will continue to be issued by the DVLA alongside the app, although if the app is successful, then the current plastic licences may eventually be scrapped.
An online customer account facility
In recent years, the DVLA has been plagued by backlogs, with the process for submitting paper applications subject to major delays due to Covid disruption and strikes. As a result, there are currently an estimated 1.4 million applications waiting to be processed, which is preventing some drivers from getting on the roads.
To bring the system up to date, the DVLA is creating a customer account facility, which will give drivers easy and secure access to a range of DVLA services online. MOT booking systems and certificates will also be digitised, with the paper MOT certificates that currently occupy gloveboxes across the UK eventually being scrapped altogether.
What does this mean for road users?
With more and more people getting used to this type of technology thanks to e-ticketing, drivers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of keeping important information on their smartphones. However, as the RAC Foundation has pointed out, the more personal data that is stored on our phones, the more attractive a target they become for thieves and hackers.
For drivers who are reluctant to make the change, the DVLA has said that while it is committed to digitising driving licences, it will not become an exclusively digital organisation. Drivers who cannot or prefer not to store this sensitive information online will still be able to interact with the DVLA in other ways.