Commentary: Your driver's license photo


You have to do this every four years. If you want to keep your driver's license, every four years on your birthday you need to go in to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew your driver's license. It's no big deal, you just show up to prove you're still alive, pay $25.25, they check your eyes, take your picture for your new license and you're in business again for the next four years.

So that driver's license photo is no big deal, right? Well, not so fast. A few years ago, I smiled for my license photo. Why not ─ I was happy to be alive, happy my eyes were still good without glasses and happy to be renewed. My son, Buckwheat, saw my new driver's license with my smiling face on the card. He sneered. "What kind of a nerd smiles for his driver's license photo?" he asked. My answer was a shrug "My kind of nerd, I guess" was the best answer I could come up with.

Last week, Eartha made a big production out shampooing her hair, applying her makeup and her (always good) appearance, so I asked her what the important occasion was. It was the day after her birthday and she told me she was going in to have her picture taken for her driver's license renewal. I hadn't thought a person's driver's license photo was a big deal, but I'm beginning to understand. After all, that photo is your face for the next four years.

If you get stopped by the Highway Patrol, they will ask to see your license. If your picture looks like an escaped con, you'd better hope you had your seatbelt buckled or you may have a slight problem. If you show a happy face, you will give the impression of innocence and you may get the benefit of the doubt. It won't hurt if you're courteous to the officer as well. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm looking at my current license photo and I'm afraid I look like a troublemaker, and I'm stuck with that look until 2020. What was I thinking?

I'm sure Eartha wasn't thinking about being stopped. She just wanted a nice looking photo for the next four years. Who can blame her? She looked great when she left, so I'm sure her picture will be flattering. We'll know when the new license arrives.

A passport photo, on the other hand, is good for 10 years. You need them to go to Canada, Mexico or any other place where a dollar isn't a dollar, but a peso, a Euro or a ruble. One time I was passing through a checkpoint and my passport was almost at the ten-year limit. I showed it to the passport checker and I said, "this is what I looked like 10 years ago." She looked at the old picture, then she looked at me and said, "Only 10 years ago?" She was teasing I think, but 10 years can generate a lot of new wrinkles.

One other bit of advice about photos you didn't want to be taken. Whenever you see a news story about some citizen who's been arrested and charged, you see an arrest photo. That photo must be an essential part of the procedure for booking the suspect into the jail. You can see the lines and numbers on the wall behind him that show his height at the time of the arrest. The pictures are horrible. You see scowling faces, hair messed up and it looks like the person has been fighting or is drunk. Anybody looking at that mug shot will assume you're guilty. So, if you're arrested, request (no, demand) an opportunity to wash your face, comb your hair and straighten your shirt before the mug shot. And smile, showing your most innocent face. Your mom won't be nearly as distressed when the paper comes out. And remember this too ─ you're presumed innocent, you have the right to remain silent (keep your mouth shut) and don't use your one phone call to text your Facebook "friends." Keep smiling.