Legal Insights

In-State vs. Out-of-State Vertical Driver Licenses

By: April 13, 2016

Arizona bars and restaurants now can more readily sell alcohol to out-of-state 21 year olds than those who hold certain Arizona licenses.

For the past two years, businesses in Arizona were legally prohibited from selling alcohol to anyone holding a vertical driver license or identification card (or identification otherwise marked or issued to a minor) if more than 30 days had passed since that person’s 21st birthday.

The law still applies to Arizona residents, but not to out-of-state residents. Arizona’s new law now allows anyone over 21 with an out-of-state driver license or identification card to purchase alcohol, so long as the license or card has a photo of the holder and the holder’s birth date.

Arizona Revised Statutes (“ARS”) § 4-241(K)(1) previously provided that the following were acceptable forms of identification:

  1. An unexpired driver license issued by any state, the District of Columbia, any territory of the United States or Canada if the license includes a picture of the licensee and the person’s date of birth. A driver license issued to a person who is under twenty-one years of age is no longer an acceptable type of identification under this paragraph thirty days after the person turns twenty-one years of age.

That statute changed earlier this month and now provides.

  1. An unexpired driver license issued by this state. A driver license issued to a person who is under twenty-one years of age is no longer an acceptable type of identification under this paragraph thirty days after the person turns twenty-one years of age.
  2. An unexpired driver license issued by any other state, the District of Columbia, any territory of the United States or Canada if the license includes a picture of the person and the person’s date of birth.

Why the change? It appears to be an attempt to balance two state interests. First, prevent those under 21 from purchasing alcohol but, second, allow those of legal drinking age to spend money imbibing in bars and restaurants. To understand the reasoning behind the change, let’s first look at why the identification law was passed in the first place.

Policy makers recognize that underage drinking is a problem. If they can find ways to curb it they will, as long as the enforcement vehicles do not unnecessarily burden businesses that want to sell alcohol to persons of legal drinking age.

By 2010, most states had adopted laws requiring driver licenses and identification cards issued to persons under 21 to incorporate some mechanism that clearly identified the holder as under 21. Arizona chose to issue vertical cards to persons under 21. Nationwide, the goal has been to make it easier for businesses to determine whether a patron is of legal drinking age.

Arizona went a step further. In 2014, the state passed strict legislation preventing anyone holding an under 21 driver license or identification card from purchasing alcohol if more than 30 days had passed since their 21st birthday.

The legislation was widely supported by the Arizona hospitality industry. It made things easier. Bartenders no longer had to scrutinize a vertical driver license for a birth date. If vertical, it was not a legal form of identification for the purchase of alcohol.

Within months, however, bars and restaurants began to identify an unintended consequence of the law. There were anecdotal reports of Arizona businesses losing income, because out-of-state vacationers or college students did not have updated driver licenses, and had no prompt, reasonable means of obtaining an acceptable form of identification.

To remedy this, earlier this month Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law the newly revised ARS § 4-241(K), which treats out-of-state license holders more generously than in-state license holders, at least with respect to purchasing alcohol.

So is that appropriate? Arizonans who are more than thirty days past 21 and still possess a vertical driver license might decry the legislation as unfair. But then again, by living here, someone turning 21 can easily and quickly obtain a replacement license.

Those out-of-state residents living in Arizona for a period of months at a time – such as college students – may well turn 21 while here, but have no prompt and effective means of obtaining an over-21 duplicate driver license. Not every state allows for the on-line replacement of an under-21, vertical driver license.

Is it legal? Almost certainly. States are given great leeway in both the types of identification they issue and the manner in which they regulate and control the sale of alcohol.