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Don't Grin and Bear It: N.J. Bans Big Smiles in License Pics

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on September 25, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Everyone knows that the DMV is no fun. In fact, in New Jersey (where the DMV is technically called the MVC, or Motor Vehicle Commission) they've gone so far as to ban big smiles in their license photos.

Just in case people were enjoying themselves too much while waiting in line, New Jersey is putting a stop to it. It's one of several states with a "neural facial expression" rule when it comes to license photos.

It's not that the Garden State wants to hide the great time its residents are having while they wait to renew their licenses. There is actually a reason behind the policy: New Jersey doesn't want people to smile because they want citizens to look like androids.

Wait no, that's not the actual reason. That's just what Velvet S. McNeil thought when she went to get her license renewed and was told to turn down the smile, according to NBC News.

New Jersey's "no smile" policy is actually a way to combat fraud by people trying to create a new identity to avoid punishment or get additional state services.

New Jersey, like several other states, uses facial recognition software to compare license photos and search for duplicates. But the software has a hard time with big smiles.

Maybe it also spent too long waiting at the DMV? Or Santa never brought it presents?

The cheesy, smile-for-the-camera face that people often make when their picture is taken distorts facial features. That makes it hard for the software to run a comparison against existing pictures.

The rule against exaggerated smiling is no different from a ban on wearing glasses in driver's license photos, or a requirement that people keep their eyes open in pictures, says New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission spokesperson Elyse Coffey.

It is true that the government can set its own criteria for a privilege such as a license or passport. That can include the format of your identifying photo, such as requiring a white background or a certain size of photo.

After all, a driver's license is a privilege and not a right. If New Jersey says you can't be overly happy in your license picture, then that's the rule. If you're not happy about that, you might want to consider moving to a state that allows more smiling.

Photo ID requirements can seem strange, and some are not lawful. If you have questions about these requirements, feel free to post them at the FindLaw Answers Consumer Issues messgae board. You can typically get a quick answer so you know where you stand with the law.

If you live in New Jersey or plan to, remember this the next time you have to renew your driver's license: Just listen to some Lady Gaga and keep that "Poker Face" when they snap your photo.

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