If you can, smile at DMV

I’ve always suspected the reason most people aren’t smiling in their driver’s license photo is because their facial muscles are numb from having to wait a couple hours at the DMV.

But shouldn’t the reverse be true? Shouldn’t we all appear happy in these photos because the waiting is over?

Then I came to find out earlier this week that it didn’t matter if folks wanted to smile, the apparent grinches behind the camera at your local Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles were ordering people to wipe the smiles from their faces.

That is, at least, according to a story in Tuesday’s USA Today.

The report suggested that Nevada’s DMV, along with those in Arkansas, Indiana and Virginia, had a policy that required “neutral facial expressions” for driver’s license photos.

The purpose of the grinless photos was so that high-tech software could compare photos, and preventing fraud doesn’t work very well when comparing different facial expressions.

The software issues a warning when it matches a new photo with an existing photo, suggesting someone with a license may be trying to assume another driver’s identity.

The duller the expression, the easier it is for the system to find matches.

Most of the 31 states that do computerized matching don’t have a no smile policy and their systems still work fine, according to the story.

So why wouldn’t it work in ours?

Well, it turns out, USA Today got it wrong, at least here in Nevada, said DMV spokesman Tom Jacobs. (To clear the air, Arkansas and Indiana allow smiles, too).

“The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has no policy, rule or law that prohibits a motorist from smiling when being photographed for a driver’s license,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs explained that exaggerated facial expressions are likely to be rejected, but a normal smile is encouraged.

“DMV technicians routinely ask people to smile before snapping their photo,” Jacobs said.

“We do ask people with long hair to tuck their hair behind their ears and to remove eyeglasses. Doing so results in an image that can be better processed with our facial recognition program,” he said.

The DMV has been using the program as part of the Central Issuance system since January to fight identity theft.

“The facial recognition program matches newly photographed images with images in the department’s database, flagging suspected matches,” Jacobs said.

Since the system went into operation, investigators have flagged 363 photos and the DMV has canceled 136 licenses or identification cards, Jacobs said.

But there are at least 19 facial muscles in the human face that can be twisted and contorted into a plethora of expressions.

So what facial expressions are allowed and which are forbidden?

I spoke with Jacobs and came up with this list: Smiling, grinning, a pensive or bored expression and even frowning are allowed.

What’s forbidden generally falls into the category of overdoing any type of expression.

So, no curling your upper lip like Elvis, sticking your tongue out, squinting, crossing your eyes (unless it’s natural of course). And there’s no wiggling of the ears, picking of the nose, gnashing of teeth, and you can’t suck your cheeks in and move your lips like a fish. Believe it or not, you can’t hold up your cash winnings from the slot machine.

And just like there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no crying for your license photo.

“It would distort your face,” Jacobs explained.

It’s kind of ironic actually. A place that bores and frustrates you to tears doesn’t allow crying.

But smile all you want.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 702-387-2904, or e-mail him at Please include your phone number.

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