Driver”s licenses to store electronic info.

WASHINGTON

The government is taking first steps with the states to develop drivers” licenses that can electronically store information such as fingerprints for the 184 million Americans who carry the cards.

Privacy experts fear the effort may lead to de facto national identification cards that would allow authorities to track citizens electronically, circumventing the intense debate over federal ID cards.

Supporters said it was predictable after Sept. 11, and after a debate over U.S. identity cards, that officials would turn to improving existing identification systems. With careful use, they say these new licenses could alert authorities if a suspected terrorist attempted to board an airliner, withdraw cash or enter the country.

The Transportation Department, under instructions from Congress, is expected to develop rules for states to encode data onto driver”s licenses to prevent criminals from using them as false identification. Under a new national standard, a license from California could be verified and recorded using equipment even in Texas or Florida.

In a report accompanying the funding legislation, Congress told the department it would “strongly encourage” officials there to develop guides quickly with the states for electronically storing information on licenses.

Blood shortage follows post-attack surge

WASHINGTON

Thousands of people who pledged to donate blood after Sept. 11 aren”t doing so, as the nation”s supply dwindles to pre-attack levels and in some places nears shortages.

Blood supplies always drop in the winter, as snowstorms, flu and holidays hinder regular donors from giving. Blood banks hoped this winter would be different after hundreds of thousands lined up to donate after the attacks. Instead, supplies are tightening again. Stocks of O-negative, the only blood type everyone can use, are especially worrisome.

“We”re back to begging for volunteer blood donors,” Joyce Halvorsen of the Community Blood Bank in Lincoln, Neb., says with a sigh.

“We”re seeing a trickle” of Sept. 11 donors return, adds Jim McPherson of America”s Blood Centers, whose member blood banks supply about half the nation”s blood. “It”s a little disheartening.”

Some potential donors tell blood banks they don”t see the need to give again unless there”s an emergency. That”s a dangerous misconception. Emergencies happen every day. A single car crash can require 50 units of blood.

Postal rate increase scheduled for June

WASHINGTON

The U.S. Postal Service has reached agreements with many of its major customers on a plan to raise postal rates June 30, three months earlier than projected, bringing a swifter infusion of money to the financially struggling agency.

While the rate increases would generate an additional $4.2 billion a year and the agency would gain about $1 billion from the three-month difference in timing a spokesman says the Postal Service would still require the $5 billion it wants from Congress to pay for emergency needs brought on by the Sept. 11 terrorist and anthrax attacks.

The cost of a first-class stamp would rise from 34 cents to 37 cents as part of an overall package that boosts rates for direct-mail marketers, magazine publishers, nonprofits and others.

Teenage girls show risky road behavior

WASHINGTON

Sixteen-year-old boys still are the most risky drivers on the road, but the girls are gaining.

For every 1,000 licensed 16-year-old girls, 175 got in car accidents in 2000, according to federal accident data. That”s up 37 percent from 1990, when 128 girls crashed per 1,000 drivers.

Accidents for 16-year-old boys decreased slightly during the same period, from 216 to 210 per 1,000 drivers.

Susan Ferguson, senior vice president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said yesterday that boys are crashing less because of safer vehicle designs and less drunken driving.

“While women would have experienced those improvements as well, they are crashing more because they are driving more miles,” she said.

Fashion designer announces retirement

PARIS

Yves Saint Laurent, the master designer who created undying trends like the pantsuit and defined classic elegance for generations of women, announced his retirement yesterday and said he would close the legendary fashion house he started 40 years ago.

At a news conference at his Paris salon, Saint Laurent talked at length about his battles with drugs, depression and loneliness, but gave no indication those problems were the reason for his retirement.

“I”ve known fear and terrible solitude,” he said. “Tranquilizers and drugs, those phony friends. The prison of depression and hospitals. I”ve emerged from all this, dazzled but sober.”

The designer, widely considered the world”s finest, addressed his legacy in a statement he read without looking up at the small room crowded with reporters and employees.

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