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New Jersey bans smiling in driver's license photos

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Robert Harbison/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Commuters take to the crowded LA freeways after work. In New Jersey, drivers are banned from smiling in their license photo because smiles can confuse facial recognition software.

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New Jersey residents have many reasons to be happy:

But if you live in New Jersey, don't go smiling about all that when you're posing for your driver's license photo, or you'll have to do the whole thing over.

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According to, New Jersey recently instituted a policy that prohibits residents from grinning in their driver's license pics. That's not because the state wants drivers to look dour, as though they fully understand the solemn responsibility that comes with having a license.

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No, it's because smiles any larger than the one shown on the sample license above can confuse facial recognition software. says that DMVs have begun using such software to catch driver's license applicants who might be assuming someone's identity to create a fake ID: "If a new photo, for example, matches an old one that carries a different name, a red flag goes up, and investigators step in."

Over time, we have a hunch that policies like this will create a database of faces, just like the existing fingerprint database. Ultimately, law enforcement agents will be able to use that database to pick out perps from security camera footage after a crime has been committed.

Which may or may not be a reason to smile, depending on your point of view.