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Which State Banned Smiling in Driver's License Photos?


"Why should we all look like androids, looking mopey?"

New Jersey has banned smiling for driver's license photos.

New Jersey driver's license

Getting a driver's license in the Garden State? Don't turn that frown upside down.

It turns out motorists in New Jersey are not allowed to smile in their driver's license photos because doing so could interfere with new facial recognition software.

The policy actually took effect in January but has gone largely unnoticed -- that is, until Velvet McNeill of Sicklerville, N.J. brought it to light.

McNeill, 38, told the Philadelphia Daily News she went to have her driver's license photo taken last week when a manager at the Motor Vehicle Commission office informed her she wasn't allowed to smile. McNeill was so incensed that she left, saying the staff couldn't adequately explain the ban on grins.

"Why should we all look like androids, looking mopey? I know there are some people who don't have good driver's licenses, but I actually keep all mine," McNeil said.

According to the Daily News, the new software bars applicants from making any kind of exaggerated facial expression that could throw off the computer. The goal is to stop fraud by flagging photos of people who are already in the system under another name.

"That could be someone trying to steal someone else's identity to get insurance benefits, or someone trying to get out of a DUI by getting a license under another name," Mike Horan, spokesman for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, told the newspaper. "This helps us weed out fraud."

While slight smiles are fine, "Hey-I-won-the-lottery-type smiles" are not, Horan said. "To get an accurate photo, you don't want an excessively expressive face in the photo."

But that's not the end of the story: According to the Daily News, Pennsylvania and Delaware each use the software too.

"Smile/no-smile is not a problem," Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jan McKnight said. "You can smile in Pennsylvania."

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