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New Ohio drivers license features computer chip

License aimed at getting truckers, tourists across the U.S. border faster could be available by 2016.

In a bid to move commercial trucking and tourists more swiftly through the borders with Canada and Mexico, Ohio is considering an enhanced driver’s license that includes a bar code and a computer chip.

Only five states bordering Canada - Michigan, New York, Vermont, Washington and Minnesota — offer the licenses now. The U.S. Department of State offers a high-tech passport card intended to allow quicker passage through borders.

A state license would cost $50 - half the price of a passport. It would come with radio frequency identification that could be read from 30 feet away without making physical contact or requiring a line of sight between the driver and the border control officer.

It doesn’t mean a border crossing would be a breeze.

Passing through the Canadian border, the RFID chip would be read while the driver is in the inspection line and the border officer would quickly get biographic info, a photo, and terrorist or criminal checks as the vehicle pulls up to the booth.

The driver and cargo would still undergo a quick check and possibly more.

“It makes it easier for you to get through,” said truck driver Mark Burr, 56, of Little Rock, Ark., who has the State Department-issued passport card that’s valid for land and water passages only. Burr stopped at the Flying J Truck Stop on Northwoods Boulevard Wednesday north of Dayton.

A bill authorizing the license was approved in the Ohio House Transportation, Public Safety, and Homeland Security Committee Tuesday by a 10-1 vote. It’s now headed for the House. An enhanced license could be available by 2016.

The license would benefit a large number of travelers, said state Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, author of the bill.

“It’s for everybody — there’s immense convenience with it. The program has grown gung-ho in other states and it’s time for Ohio, too,” he said.

Ohio boaters who want to visit Canada could use it. “They wouldn’t worry about getting their passport soaked. The passport works great, but it’s big and bulky. This is just more convenient,” Damschroder said.

Advocates include the Ohio Conference of AAA Clubs and the Ohio Trucking Association. The licenses would not be mandatory. The idea comes from the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative formed by the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security.

Civil rights advocates have expressed concern that the licenses could be vulnerable to criminal activity or government abuse.

Gary Daniels, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the organization has two major concerns about the change: that the technology is not secure, and that the system could be abused by the government or third parties.

‘There’s also the very real problem that this technology can be used to survey the whereabouts of ordinary Americans,’ Daniels said. ‘We already know that our federal government surveys us in a number of ways. … Why would we think another opportunity would come along and say, ‘˜No, not this time, we have enough information now.”

Tomas Molnar, 73, and his wife Mary, stopped off at a gas station along Interstate 75 on their way to visit family in Louisville, Ky. The Windsor, Ontario, couple have the Canadian equivalent of the license. Both said it greatly reduces time at border crossings - from 20 minutes on average down to five minutes.

“It’s a very good idea,” Tomas Molnar, who also uses it when boating across the Detroit River, said.

Kristen Mitchell of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.

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