What Your CA Driver’s License Looks Like

CA Driver’s License and Identification Card

The California Department of Motor Vehicles annually issues about 9 million driver’s licenses and identification cards. A driver’s license or identification card is the primary identification document in California. It is valid for all purposes except international travel. All licenses and ID cards must be authenticated and accurate to identify an individual. That is why they have several security features.

The New Design of Licenses and ID Cards

In 2010, the DMV updated driver’s licenses and identification cards with new security features and a completely new design. The new features included:

  • Format is vertical for minors (persons under 21) and horizontal for adults (persons 21 and over).
  • Cardholders last name is on a single line. The first and middle names are on a second line.
  • Tactile date of birth and signature.
  • Ultraviolet photo and date of birth of cardholder.
  • Illustrations of well-known California landmarks are in the background.
  • California brown bear outline is visible when a flashlight is pressed against the back of the card.

California driver's license - front

California ID card - front

California Driver's License Under 21 - front

California Driver's License - back

  • A. There are two photos on your license or ID card. A smaller and lighter color UV Image is visible under ultraviolet light.
  • B. Your signature is engraved with raised lettering that can be felt by touch.
  • C. Two lines are used for your name. Your last name is displayed on the first line. The second line shows your first and middle name. It simplifies the display of different naming conventions.
  • D. If you are under 21 years old, you will be issued a vertical license or ID card. The vertical format will help retailers and law enforcement quickly identify the cardholder’s age.
  • E. The magnetic stripe on the reverse side of the driver’s license or ID card holds the same information found on the front of the card.
  • F. DMV has added a laser perforation to the card. You can see the outline of the California brown bear from the front of the card when a flashlight is pressed against the back.
  • G. The new 2D barcode on the reverse side holds the same information on the card’s front.

When You Move to California

Remember, if you move to California and want to drive in California, you must apply for a California License within ten days.

If you have a valid license from another state, the DMV usually waives the knowledge and road tests.

More Information

More information about Driver’s License and ID Card Information

Learn More

California Permit Practice Test No. 1

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11 thoughts on “What Your CA Driver’s License Looks Like”

  1. Hi Mark, on letter C above: C.
    Two lines are used for your name. Your last name is displayed on the first line. The second line shows your first and middle name. It simplifies the display of different naming conventions.
    What if you have a suffix like Jr? Will that go on the second like? If so how does that go with TSA background checks? Where they want your name to match exactly. It there a Vehicle code or something I could reference?
    Thank you I

    • Sorry for late reply!

      DMV electronically verifies your name, birth date and social security number with the SSA. So, it’s SSA rules that apply.

      The SSA doesn’t consider your middle name or suffix (e.g., Junior, Senior, II) as part of your legal name. Your legal name is your first and last name only. Normally, that’s whats on your card and on your license. This is, however, not always clear-cut. Refer to SSA here: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0110212001

      Check that your license matches your social security card, then your fine.

  2. I got my license at 16 and it looks like they are renewed every 4 years. So, when I turned 20 I got a new license. My license is vertical because I was under the age of 21. Now that I am 21 many places are refusing my id simply because it is vertical. I have tried to get it replaced but the DMV is telling me it would just be a copy of the same license, it won’t be horizontal until the next time I need to renew it which won’t be until I am 24! This doesn’t seem right? How can I get this corrected?

  3. My DL number begins with an “N.” We know people whose cards begin with other letters, too. Does anyone know what the “Y” prefix means?

  4. Way back in 1967 when in LA I was queried when I went to rent a car that my Aussie driver’s licence simply said “New South Wales Drivers Licence” and did not say Australia anywhere. Now though it does say “New South Wales, Australia Drivers Licence”.

    Now I look at the sample California drivers license I see that it does not include the country name. So after 56 years California still doesn’t say what country they belong to. 🙂 🙂

    • California Licenses says “USA” in small print after California and before Drivers License. You can see it on the low-resolution photos they have posted here.


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