TRANSPORT: License on a Chip

Obtaining a driver’s license in Ahmedabad, Gujrat, used to be a
bureaucratic nightmare that took two weeks to a month. Frustrated motorists
routinely paid middlemen to handle the process. Worse, the 5.2 million paper
licenses held by drivers in Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujrat were of little use
to police officers. Unlike advanced countries, police officers could not rely on
sophisticated computer networks to check the validity of a license, or quickly
know how many times a motorist had been convicted of speeding. The minimal paper
records that existed were bundled together and stacked in overflowing

Poor records meant repeat offenders went unpunished, indirectly encouraging
reckless driving. The traffic toll in the state reached nearly 40,000 accidents
and 5,000 fatalities in 1998. However, since December 1998, the state has been
turning around that sorry record by issuing one of the most sophisticated driver’s
licenses in the world. Each license is a smart card, and the chip carries a
digitized version of a driver’s fingerprints to prevent others from using that
license. The chip also contains a record of past violations. The card carries a
photo of the driver and his/her signature as well as such information as name
and address. The information can be accessed through hand-held terminals that
the traffic police are equipped with.

Each officer also carries a sophisticated smart card terminal with an
on-board microprocessor that allows him to write information–such as recording
a speeding ticket–onto a motorist’s card. The motorist cannot change the
data on the chip. Data on traffic violations are also captured by the officer’s
mobile terminal and downloaded at the end of the day into the transportation
department’s computer system. About 300 such data files are captured each day.

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