DETROIT The state has announced the availability of new enhanced driver's licenses that are expected to trim the time it takes motorists to enter Michigan from Canada.
Applications now are being taken for the optional licenses designed to allow smoother travel between the U.S. and Canada when stricter Homeland Security border requirements take effect this spring, according to Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.
Standard driver's licenses along with birth certificates no longer will be accepted to return to the U.S. starting June. 1. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, passed in 2005, requires all travelers entering the country by land or sea to have a passport or other approved identification at borders.
The enhanced licenses or EDLs help protect security and economic issues, Land said at a press briefing Tuesday near the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario over the Detroit River.
"Many people might rather decide not to cross the border or do a day trip because of the hassle and expense of getting a passport," she said. "That could harm our trade relationship with Canada, and also cost a billion dollars a week in tourism and transportation."
Michigan began studying the issue in 2005 and was given approval last fall to use the enhanced licenses as a border crossing document, Land said.
The Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel are the main ways across the Detroit River. The border is considered one of the busiest trade corridors in the world, with more than 40 percent of U.S. trade with Canada passing through the area.
Michigan joins New York, Vermont and Washington as the only states in the U.S. with enhanced driver's licenses. In Canada, the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec have the enhanced licenses, Canadian Consul General to Detroit Robert Noble said.
The high-tech cards are read by a scanner at border crossings. Information on the cards are kept in a secure database.
The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed the project, saying personal information can be accessed by outsiders from a chip in the license.
But Sidney Aki, assistant director of field operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that information will not be transmitted during the process or available to outsiders.
The new licenses are expected to cut the time it takes each of the 6,000 cars crossing the Detroit River by 10 to 15 seconds, he said. Security personnel are expected to only need to make quick visual checks of each vehicle.
The licenses cost $45 and also allow smoother land or water travel with Mexico or the Caribbean. Like standard driver's licenses, the enhanced licenses are valid for four years. Passports still will be needed for air travel.