Rhode Island Bans Smiling at the DMV

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According to Jennifer Bogdan from our partner paper, the Providence Journal, if you were still smiling by the time you got your picture taken at the Rhode Island DMV, you better knock it off.

“If you’re hoping that your next Rhode Island driver’s license photo will finally be the glamorous close up you’ve always envisioned, think again,” she writes. “So wipe that smile off your face, tuck your hair behind your ears, and don’t even think about a coy tilt of the head. This photo will not be your next Facebook profile picture.”

Not like you’d feel much like smiling once you waded through the morass at Rhode Island’s Department of Motor Vehicles. By all accounts, the Ocean State’s DMV is notoriously awful. It gets a dismal two stars in Google Reviews.

Some of the comments reveal just how bad it can be.

According to the Providence Journal,  the grim reminder that your last trip to the DMV was a soul-crushing, Kafka-esque nightmare that you’ll carry in your wallet for years is down to a change in facial recognition software. “Paul Grimaldi, a spokesman for the DMV, said an ‘upgrade’ to the agency’s cameras in the summer of 2016 as the state began issuing new driver’s licenses also resulted in upgrades to the state’s ‘facial recognition program.’ It’s all part of a push to improve ID security.”

Apparently, Rhode Island’s facial recognition software is not programmed to recognize happiness.

Enjoy a Happier Time Searching for a Car at BestRide.com

The written instructions from Little Rhody’s license vendor — the cheery sounding “MorphoTrust USA” —  appear to have been plagiarized from the North Korean passport office: “Shoulders must be square to the camera; facial expression is neutral; the mouth is closed; the eyes are wide open (normally), hair must not cover the eyes or brow; remove all head covers and glasses. The face must be viewed in a frontal position with no more than 15 degrees of tilt [and] the entire face region must be inside the image.”

Perfect, Nick. Excellent framing of “face region.”

Everyone queued up for a renewed driver’s license had better use the Meisner Technique to generate some depressing sense memories, because signs are posted all over the Cranston, Rhode Island branch of the DMV, telling all “customers” that they need to have their pictures retaken. That one cute license photo you managed back when you were 23 is gone for good.

“You will be unsurprised to learn that there has been a push nationally among motor vehicle and law enforcement agencies to improve credentialing systems as a way to deter fraud, identity theft and crime,” Grimaldi told the Providence Journal.

“National standards developed in recent years [require] that certain features be easily discernible. For example, eyebrows, ears and chins must be unobstructed. Eyeglasses must be removed.”

Welcome to 2017, via 1984.


Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.