France has set its sights on creating a digital version of driving licences, according to French media reports.
The licences will be stored via an app on smartphones that can be accessed even without an internet connection.
A trial of the new system will take place in the latter half of 2023 in three French departments, with the government hoping to introduce the e-licences nationwide before the 2024 European elections.
It is part of a wider plan by the government to digitise - a process the French call dématérialisation - a number of official documents to cut down on waste.
The government eventually wants to create digital versions of the French health insurance (carte Vitale) and identity (carte d'identité) cards.
France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, told Le Parisien the digital versions will not “replace” current licences and are meant instead to “complement” them.
Critics say the prerequisite of owning a smartphone is unfair, particularly for older drivers, and question the practicality of storing this information digitally.
A similar trial to digitalise identity cards hit a stumbling block earlier this year when a number of Apple iPhone owners were unable to use the associated app meant to host the electronic cards.
Digitalisation should bring benefits
The rolling out of e-licences will bring both ecological and quality-of-life improvements, say the government.
Digital licences will “simplify the lives of citizens who are fond of digital administrative procedures,” said Mr Darmanin.
The licence – aside from being used during police checks – can also be used like a driving licence in that it can be used for car hire, as proof of identity, or to apply for a power of attorney online.
A trial of the e-licences will take place in the Rhône, Hauts-de-Seine and Eure-et-Loir departments during the latter half of 2023, and if successful, the system could be rolled out across the country.
These departments were chosen as they are “representative territories of the country with a mix of urban and rural... with major traffic routes to test [police checks],” said Anne-Gaëlle Baudouin-Clerc, director of the Agence nationale des titres sécurisés (ANTS).
Follows a trend of moving services online
The digitisation of driving licences is the latest in a number of schemes from the government to move services online.
Recently, the minister for justice released the justice.fr app, which allows users to access legal aid through their smartphone and it is expected drivers will see their insurance documents held in an online database by next year.
The government says the digitalisation of these services will not only reduce paper usage and cut down on waste, but also improve safety.
The e-licences will be “a certified copy of an administrative document… useful in the fight against the scourge of identity theft,” said Darmanin.
For those who do not have a smartphone, or have no internet connection, the rapid switch to digital materials can cause more harm than good.
Last year, France’s Defender of Rights said it was unfair to “impose” the usage of smartphones” on citizens, and complaints over the inequality of online administrative processes have been raised.
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