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Driver's license photos in USA
madame_manga wrote in little_details
When did the various states of the US begin to put a driver's photo on his/her license? I'm specifically interested in Texas and Arizona, and in the period from 1965-1975.

Search terms tried so far in various combinations: history driver's licenses, driver's license photos, photo ID history/technology, old driver's license, driver's license history US, Texas driver's license, Arizona et al. I'm getting a lot of pages on how to request your own license history or take a license photo that won't frighten small children. 'Photo ID' mostly nets information on passports (photos weren't required until 1915, FYI), fake ID and current political controversies.

But I have turned up some images of various state licenses from the 1950s and early 1960s that have no photos, only a physical description. I also found a document from the Oregon DMV that mentions photo licenses being issued beginning in 1975. That seems to imply that the technology for photo licenses was developed around the middle 1970s, and that probably most states began to require photos in that general time period. But Texas is frequently a law unto itself, especially where driving is concerned, so it may not be safe to extrapolate. :)

My Vermont state driver's license didn't have a photo in the mid-1990's. It was just a green laminated card with, as you say, a physical description. It was *possible* to get a photo license, but you had to drive to Montpelier, and I think it also cost extra.

Interesting! Thank you.

Could be that there was a large state/small state divide in adopting photos, especially if it was expensive to implement. Or a regional difference? As far back as I can remember (probably right around the middle 1970s) California has had photo licenses.

I was going to say that both California and Colorado had photo drivers licenses as a matter of course in 1975-6, when I got my first driver's license (I took the test in Colorado and failed, then we moved to California, I took it again and passed), but you beat me to California [g].

I remember when we moved to California (the first time, in 1962), my father had to take a test to get a California license, because forever after he used to joke about how he'd learned via that test that it was illegal to run over pedestrians in California [g]. But I don't know whether his license had a picture on it, sorry.


My grandmother used to tell the story of how she got her first license (in California) circa 1930: my grandfather taught her how to drive his car after they were married, then took her to the office for her driving test after he got off work. By the time it was their turn, the examiner apparently just wanted to close up shop and go home for the day.

So he asked my grandfather, "Can she drive?" Grandfather said yes, and the examiner signed the form and gave my grandmother her license.

No, she never had a single accident in fifty-five years. :)

Maybe East/West. Maybe rich state/poor state. Parts of Vermont are still shockingly isolated.

My parents aren't really old enough, but I asked anyway. My Dad got his license on his 16th birthday in 1975 and as far as he remembers, it had a picture on it. He doesn't remember the picture, as if he might if it was a big deal, one of the first to get one with a picture.

I'm sure someone else will weigh in with exact information pretty soon. If not, just reply and I'll ask around some more. Plenty of people to ask, Dad's just the only one handy at the moment!

Thanks! What state was this, if you don't mind my asking?

I got my first Texas driver's license around 1965, and at first I was going to swear that it had a photo. But when I tried to remember what it looked like, I couldn't. Try contacting the Texas State Library to see whether they can dig up the date photos were first used on Texas drivers' licenses. Note that they do ask you to rigorously investigate the links provided before contacting them. I checked the Handbook of Texas pretty thoroughly and gave the Texas Department of Public Safety pages a once-over already.

Thanks, that looks like an excellent resource! I'll give them a try.

I'm in Oregon, so I don't know how much this will help, but my first driver's license, in 1975, didn't have a photo. My first photo license was around 1979.

Thanks! That sounds like just about the break point between non-photo/photo for the Western states.

FWIW - Driver's license photos, and how bad they could be, were already a widespread meme by the time I was eligible for one in 1979.

Hee! Yes, I've had some disasters in my time!

The rules varied considerably between states. I moved from NJ to Nevada circa 1979 (I moved back again around 1985). NJ didn't *require* photo licenses until the idea of National ID came into being. Photo licenses were available for a lot longer and were required for drivers under 18 (or possibly 21). Peolple used to renew their non-photo license by mail. It was just a piece of paper -- they used to get a big crease line that flaked apart when it was folded into a wallet.

Nevada was running photo-id in 1979 and everyone had one. People were stunned by the NJ style license. As I understand it, the western states were early adopters. When I traveled across the country, over the last two years, there was a much bigger emphasis in the West on producing ID with credit cards. For a small grocery order in NJ, many stores don't even make you sign the electronic screen; whereas in Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, they might make me pull out my driver's license.

If I couldn't find the real data, I would guess that Arizona had photo-IDs universally circa 1980.

Thanks! This is interesting stuff -- I haven't traveled further east than the Rockies since I was a kid, so I don't have personal experience with anything other than Western customs. It's a big country!

Might also help explain why the idea of a national ID card gets such different reactions in different parts of the US.

When I was a freshman in college in 1982, a dorm mate showed us her New York driver's license and it didn't have a picture on it. We were from different states and our driver's licenses all had pictures, so we thought it was funny. I got my license in Indiana in 1980 and it had a picture; I don't know when they began having them.

"Bad driver's license pictures" has been a comedy topic for as long as I can remember (born 1964.)

Mary MMM

Thanks! I hadn't known there were such big differences between states and regions in relatively recent times.

New Jersey didn't have a photo on the driver's license until the late 1990s. No idea about Texas and Arizona unfortunately.

I got a NY driver's license in 1982 that had no photo.

I got an IA driver's license ca. 1988 that did have a photo.


When I was in college in the late 1970s, my best friend was from Maine. His license had no photo. Mine - from Missouri - did. I believe I remember New York also did not have photo licenses.

Have you considered calling the public relation office and asking?

I got my first photo drivers license in Texas in 1981. Before that I was licensed in Illinois, just a flimsy paper thing with a description.

When I went to HS in Tx in the mid 60's....there was no pic on our license.

I got my first PA drivers license in 1972 there was no picture. I remember I had to produce my drivers license for my employer In 1973. Because I was working in the bar and restaurant I had my friend change my birthday. Using her IBM typewriter ...With interchangeable typeface ....(lol old term ...font) we were able to lift off the 5 in 1955 and put in 2 making me born in 1952 so I was 21 instead of 18. That would've been impossible to do with laminated photo ID. Our drivers licenses were yellow light weight card stock, Almost paper. They didn't wear well and I think they replaced like every three years, via mail.

I am from Texas. My first driver's license was in 1967 when I was 16 years old and it did not bear a photo. It was just a flimsy card that included your physical description. California had photo's in 1968 when I visited there, but if you were under 21, your photo was a side shot.

does anyone remember NJ licesnes that only had month and year of birth? maybe prior to 1985?

I got my first license in Indiana in 1975 and it was a white piece of paper with blue border typed out and no photo.

iowa drivers licenses did not contain photographs until the late 70's or early 80s


2014-10-26 12:23 am (UTC)

I received an Iowa "learner's permit" in I think 1962 at age 14 and received my driver's license at age 16 in 1964.

As I went to the University of Iowa the nice light blue Iowa driver's licenses, without photos, were being altered by using a typewriter and light blue toilet paper to alter the birthdate on the license to get into bars.

I don't recall when photos were first put on Iowa licenses but think it was not until the late 1960s and part of the reason was to avoid older siblings "loaning" their driver's licenses to younger siblings to get into bars. The photos were added to reduce under age drinking.

I know that the license my mother had in the late 1980s when she died contained a photograph

1995 DC License


2015-01-31 04:53 pm (UTC)

I took a driver's test in Wash DC on a Vespa, but my paper license came back 'colored', since put a C for Caucasian in the 'race' box.

They re-did it as a full-fledged driver's license - in 50 years never had to take one again.

Anyone know when DC went to photos ???

California 1958

1972 Washington State


2015-07-08 05:50 am (UTC)

Passed my driver's license in Washington state in 1972 when I was 16. It had a photo on the license.


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