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Turn That Smile Upside Down: Posing at the VA DMV

So Virginia's DMV wants motorists to maintain a "neutral expression" when posing for their driver's license photos. That's fine with me. That's how I go through life anyway: all the muscles in my face slack, my skin hanging loose.

I find it saves energy. It may take more muscles to frown than smile, but it takes more muscles to smile than to stand there impassively as if you've been hit by a thorazine-filled tranquilizer dart.

Besides, what is there to smile about anyway these days? North Korea says it'll attack at the slightest provocation. The economy still isn't sure which direction it's heading. Scientists have invented glowing green monkeys. And someone is shooting at a nuclear power plant in Southern Maryland. Oh, wait, it's only the police shooting at the nuclear power plant. Never mind.

By all means, maintain a neutral expression. It's the best we can ask for.

The issue, you see, is that Virginia has a new facial recognition computer system and things like teeth confuse it. One solution might have been to wait until someone came up with better software. Instead, the DMV has chosen to tell people not to smile.

It's not as if those driver's license portraits were anything to celebrate in the first place. It's not like Richard Avedon or Annie Liebovitz is clicking the shutter over at the DMV. A typical driver's license looks something like this:


You can see the problem right away, even if you're not a computer. The motorist is smiling, as if he's cracking up over some joke only he understands.

Just look at those teeth:


The expression is insufficiently neutral. Those choppers could be anybody's. Much safer, I think, to black out the teeth so the computer isn't confused:


Hmmm. That's better. But the nose and the ears are potential problems. The software works best when all the images are similar and that schnoz looks like trouble. Let's get rid of it. And the ears, just to be safe:


Computer, what do you think? Still not there? Of course! The eyes. The eyes are the best way to identify someone. They're like fingerprints, no two alike. In sci-fi movies and thrillers don't the characters always get their irises scanned? In the future, the best driver's license photo will show only the eyes:


I think we're there. Don't worry about bringing your own burqa when you go to get your license renewed. The DMV will supply it for you.

By John Kelly  |  May 28, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
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You call that a smile, John?

Posted by: MikeM_inColumbia | May 28, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

You're showing your pearly whites. That is vorbotten. Apparently teeth mess up the software (seiously, it must be true, I heard it on WAMU yesterday). Actually, the Virginia DMV has made itself much more user friendly over the years. You no longer have to abandon all hope upon entry. It is still a tower of babel, a cacaphony of the many languages spoken in our community. Lets hope the new licenses, previously only used in Canada and Sweden do help slow down identity theft.

Posted by: mfromalexva | May 28, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

You know, John, I have had a really bad day already, and your blog was just what I needed to make me [lol]. Keep on smiling and sharing your take on the world. ;)

Posted by: iremembrmama | May 28, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

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