By Alexandra Burlacu | Sep 23, 2012 12:15 PM EDT
If you want to get your driver's license in New Jersey, be careful not to look too excited - the state has banned smiling in driver's license photographs. Back in January, New Jersey invested in new face recognition software, and the state's Motor Vehicle Commission said smiles confuse the tool. This move has gone under the radar for most of the year, until recently one resident refused to comply with the rules without getting a valid explanation why she can't smile.
Velvet S. McNeil, a 38-year-old resident of Sicklerville, New Jersey, loves to smile when she is photographed. "Your picture means a lot; it's who you are," said McNeil. When the manager of the Motor Vehicle Commission office in Cherry Hill told her she could not smile for her driver's license picture, she left, complaining that the office staff was unable to properly explain the smile ban.
"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," said McNeil, as cited by the Philadelphia Inquirer. McNeil is pictured smiling in all of her old licenses from the six states she has lived in.
As it turns out, New Jersey does prefer that its six million drivers adopt a serious pose when getting their picture taken, but it does not ban smiles altogether. It bans huge grins or exaggerated facial expressions that might confuse the facial recognition software. The goal of this move is to catch fraudsters. If a new photo, for instance, matches an old picture registered for a different name, it raises a red flag and investigators look into the matter.
"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," explained Mike Horan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. "This helps us weed out fraud."
The software could erroneously signal a problem if facial expressions vary greatly in photos of the same person, added Horan. Decent smiles are allowed, but huge grins like you've won the lottery are not. "To get an accurate photo, you don't want an excessively expressive face in the photo."
Pennsylvania and Delaware use facial recognition software too, but facial expressions are not a problem. "You can smile in Pennsylvania," said Jan McKnight, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. In fact, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, most states use face recognition technology, and some even require fingerprints.
Now that she has received a reasonable explanation about the no smile policy, McNeil said she abide by the rules and renew her license. "Just no cheesy grins, right? That's fine," she said. "I need a license, so I will definitely have to go back. I have to do what the law requires."
This is not the first time a person protests against driver's license photo rules. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reminds us, Austrian atheist Niko Alm made a hilarious protest against European Union regulations on driver's license photos, which include a ban on wearing head coverings except for religious reasons. Alm insisted on wearing a pasta strainer on his head, claiming to be a "Pastafarian" belonging to the "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster." According to him, the strainer was required headgear. Alm later received his driver's license, adorned with a picture of him proudly wearing a pasta strainer on his head.
That is a more extreme case, however, and New Jersey residents seem to be more compliant with their state's regulations.
"People recognize, especially in New Jersey, that it's important to make sure our licenses are as secure as possible," explained AAA-New Jersey spokeswoman Cathleen Lewis. "But it is important for there to be an education process, so people won't be confused about why they can't smile."
© 2013 Mobile & Apps All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.