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The biggest problem with Tennessee's new vertical under-21 license
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Category: underage drinking, driver's license, under-21

The biggest problem with Tennessee's new vertical under-21 license

07.10.18

With much media fanfare, Tennessee introduced a new silver bullet for carding – a vertical driver’s license that is mandatory for anyone under the age of 21. Problem is, the vertical driver’s license does not automatically expire when the driver turns 21.

In our humble opinion, flipping the orientation of the license dodges the real problem. Too many people with under-21 driver’s licenses are old enough to drink. The question has to be asked: why have an under-21 driver’s license if it can legally be used to purchase alcohol?

The Good News

Effective July 1, 2018, every person under the age of 21 that obtains a driver’s license will be issued a vertical ID: 

Image title

A copy of a sample vertical driver’s license is attached Vertical Driver License Example.jpg.

A copy of the new law, P.C. 388, is here. vertical license act.pdf

We have to admit that the vertical driver’s license is hard to miss.  It screams at you – “I am under 21.”

We also applaud the state for continuing to include Red Box ID technology, which allows a server or bartender to instantly determine when a person turns 21 by simply reading the date in red under the photo.  We have previously extolled the virtues of Red Box ID, which requires no math. 

The Problem

Just like the previous under-21 driver’s license, the vertical ID is not required to expire when the person turns 21. In the example ID, “Nick Sample” turns 21 on February 11, 2021, but his under-21 driver’s license does not expire until July 2, 2025.

For nearly 3-and-a-half years, Nick Sample will be able to present his under 21 driver’s license and legally be served an alcoholic beverage.

Using Nick’s under-21 ID.

To drink.

How hard would it have been for the state to require that alcohol cannot be served to a person with an under-21 driver’s license, regardless of the expiration date?

This would require Nick Sample to go get a new driver’s license when he turns 21, but that becomes his choice. Nick decides whether he wants to spend eight bucks to get a new driver’s license and be able to drink. If Nick doesn’t want to drink, he can continue to use the under-21 driver’s license to drive his car.

That would be too logical.

All this flipping around of driver’s licenses brings to mind the Diana Ross hit, “Upside Down.”

Upside down

Boy, you turn me

Inside out

And round and round



We thank our Summer Associate extraordinaire James Nelson for cleverly obtaining a copy of the sample driver’s license and his assistance researching this post.

Click here to learn more about Waller's alcoholic beverage team.



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