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Remember that department store clerk, the one who scribbled your Florida driver's license number on the check you wrote? Well, it was more than just a number. You can count on that.

In fact, your 11-digit driver's license number is a secret code containing your full name, your birthdate and your sex. And the 86-year-old man who invented the code gets $1,000 a year in royalties, courtesy of Florida taxpayers.

For 20 years, Ralph K. Niemoeller of St. Louis has earned his fee on the Alphabetic-Numeric Name Code, the basis for 11.1 million driver's license numbers in Florida.

"It's something I'm a little bit pleased about," said the newly retired Niemoeller, who copyrighted the code in 1955. He said he hasn't made a fortune on it.

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Don't bother gazing at your license, trying to decipher the numbers. Remember, it's a secret code. That's why it's copyrighted. All Niemoeller and Florida officials will say is this: It's in there, name, age and sex.

Capitol C-span State Building New org As far as Niemoeller can recall, Wisconsin and Illinois are the only other states with permission to use the code. Because Illinois was the first, he says he didn't ask for a fee. But other states use it without permission.

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"I could probably sue successfully, but I don't care for that kind of activity," said Niemoeller, who made his living as a specialist in filing -- filing papers, filing information, filing records.

Capitol C-span State Building New org Alan Cochrane, records chief for the state Division of Driver Licenses, said the specially encoded number was handy 20 years ago, when folks ordered their license through the mail. It helped make sure the right person got the right license, and only one to a person.

Many states use the Social Security number as the driver's license number -- free of charge.

"We made the decision that we wanted a meaningful number," Cochrane said. Now he admits it doesn't make much difference. "But we've had it for so many years, we're not going to change."


Here is how a Florida driver's license number is coded:

Sample license number: A111-222-33-444

-- A111 is the last name. The letter represents the first initial and numbers represent the consonants of the surname.

-- 222 represents the first name and middle initial.

-- 33 is the year of birth.

-- 444 represents the birthdate and the sex.

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