Digital driver's licence on the way for Ireland

Junior minister seemingly confirms that your next driver's licence will be in an app.

It looks very much as if a digital driver’s licence is on the way for Irish motorists, at least according to a report in The Irish Independent.

Major innovation

The paper quotes junior minister for e-Government Ossian Smyth from the Green Party as saying: “This major innovation of digital driving licences will allow people to leave their driving licence safely at home and show the digital licence on their phone if asked. The app has been tested in a pilot programme with civil servants since the start of the year, and I look forward to it being available to everyone later this year.”

The app to which Minister Smyth is referring is the Government’s new Digital Wallet App, which is currently in the pilot stage. Officially, it has not been confirmed by the Department of Public Expenditure NDP Delivery and Reform that a digital driver’s licence will form part of that wallet, but it seems increasingly likely given the statement from Minister Smyth.

Better meet the needs of the public

Officially, the Department told that: “The vision of Government’s Better Public Services Transformation Strategy is to deliver inclusive, high-quality and integrated Public Service provision that meets the needs and improves the lives of the people of Ireland. The strategy sets out a clear objective of reorienting the design of services to better meet the needs of the public. This will entail providing services in a digital format that the public has come to expect. As part of this, the development of the Government Digital ‘Life Events’ programme has commenced, which aims to provide more services digitally in a safe, seamless, inclusive and user-centric manner.

“As part of this programme, a pilot ‘Government Digital Wallet’ app is in development with the aim of developing a solution that would allow citizens to access credentials digitally. No policy decisions have been made on which credentials would be included in the app if progressed, but the Department is pleased with the progress of the pilot to date. The pilot will inform proposals which it is hoped will be brought to Government in coming weeks.”

In use in Sweden already

So far, only Sweden has brought a digital driver’s licence to fruition, and it comes with an interesting extra wrinkle - the licence must be coded to a specific vehicle or vehicles, and in theory, those cars won’t start without getting a digital handshake from the person’s licence. Swedish authorities have said that early use of the digital licence has shown the potential to help in road safety and theft by preventing unauthorised use of any car with the system.

It seems unlikely, for now, that such an extra layer of digital security will be included in the Irish digital driver’s licence, at least in the immediate term. However, there is the potential for a digital licence to be used as a way to reduce, or possibly eliminate entirely, the work of the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) and its issuing of physical card-type licences, of which there are currently some three-million holders in Ireland.

When asked the Department if such a route to cost-savings was the ultimate endgame of a digital licence, we were told: “The Government has no intention of phasing out the physical licence.”

Image courtesy of Oliver Morley

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Published on May 14, 2024