Del. Residents Can Smile Again for Driver's License Photos

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on January 30, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Another place where Don Rickles can't go anymore! Effective immediately, Delaware driver's license applicants can show their pearly whites. Thanks to a software upgrade, drivers will once again be permitted to smile in driver's license photos.

The new policy ends five years of depressed and angry photographs caused by a facial recognition system that got confused by smiles.

Say 'Cheese' 'Fraud Protection'

Delaware ran its driver's license photos through facial recognition software in order to prevent identity theft, but the system -- like many facial recognition systems -- thought a person smiling and a person not smiling were two different people. It's the same reason why you can't smile in passport photos.

"Having to enforce the no-smile protocol for driver license photos has been one of the most sensitive issues I've had to tackle," DMV Director Jennifer Cohan said in a press release. "I am glad to tell everyone that those days are over!"

Next door in New Jersey, though, your bleached teeth have to remain hidden. The Garden State barred smiling in driver's license photos in 2012, in favor of a "neutral facial expression" for the same reason. In fact, at least four states have banned smiles in photos since 2009 -- well, big smiles, anyway.

Smiles Are Nothing

Smiles, though, aren't even the most outrageous things people have wanted to wear in their driver's license photos. As you may recall, a Massachusetts couple once wanted to change both of their legal middle names to "Seamonster."

And then there was a member of the satirical "Pastafarian" religion who wanted to wear a colander on his head for his driver's license photo -- the colander being the religious headwear of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Alas, New Jersey DMV officials didn't think the pasta strainer fit the definition of religious headwear. Nevertheless, as recently as last September, a woman in Oklahoma tried the same thing.

Maybe they heard about that Austrian Pastafarian who actually won the right to do it. So, colanders good (maybe). Smiles? It depends.

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