Vertical licenses overdue in Tennessee

Johnson City Press • Jul 6, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Ever notice a big red X on a young person’s hand? It usually means he or she has been to a nightclub and labeled as being under the legal age limit for consuming alcohol.

Servers, bartenders and liquor sales clerks need all the help they can get when it comes to identifying would-be underage drinkers. Not only are their jobs on the line, they have a responsibility toward ensuring the safety of young people.

The more obvious the signal, the better.

That’s why we’re glad to see Tennessee finally follow the lead of 47 other states by switching to vertical driver licenses for residents under the age of 21.

It’s a far cry from the old days when high school and college-age people could alter, copy or create paper licenses without much effort. Fake IDs were a dime a dozen.

In the 1980s, Tennessee started issuing photo licenses in an effort to make them harder to doctor. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and young people just found more creative ways to forge away.

Much like the U.S. Treasury’s efforts to prevent counterfeit cash, states kept adding features — solid plastic rather than laminated licenses, overlays on photos, watermarks under the text and such. Tennessee’s most recent effort came in the form of a red box around an underage license holder’s photo with text stating “UNDER 21 UNTIL” the person’s 21st birthday. Harder to get around? Yes. Foolproof? No.

The vertical license won’t be either, but it’s a huge step toward limiting underage access to alcohol.

Unfortunately, the vertical licenses will not be standard for some time. We understand why. It would be inconvenient and costly for both the state and the driver if a new license were required. Only newly issued and replacement licenses will be vertical, so there are plenty of drivers ages 16-20 who got their licenses before the new system took effect July 1. Since Tennessee licenses are on an eight-year renewal cycle, a driver born June 30, 2002, or earlier could go years with one of the old-style licenses. Police and alcohol vendors will still have to study those horizontal licenses carefully.

Nonetheless, vertical licenses are bound to make a difference over the long haul. Any tool — big or small — for putting a barrier between a underage person and an alcohol-related death is a necessity.

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