If one of the many things worrying you during this pandemic has been how to get to a Department of Motor Vehicles office so you can get a driver’s license or identification card that is REAL ID compliant, you can relax.
The Department of Homeland Security has decided to delay the deadline for this. Yet again.
The latest deadline for this was supposed to be October 1, 2021. But now the deadline has been pushed back 19 months to May 3, 2023.
“Protecting the health, safety, and security of our communities is our top priority,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. “As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the REAL ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver’s licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.”
What is the big deal about REAL ID?
After the terrorist hijackings on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Real ID act with the idea of adding extra layers of security to the driver’s licenses and other identification documents travelers show when seeking to board an airplane.
Many states have had a hard time (or were opposed to) meeting the stricter requirements, so enacting the law has been delayed many times already.
Now, if nothing else causes the READ ID deadline to be pushed back yet again, beginning May 3, 2023, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another TSA-acceptable form of identification (such as a passport) at airport security checkpoints for domestic air travel.
How do you know if you have a driver’s license that’s REAL ID compliant? In most states, there is a star in the upper, right hand corner. To see what the procedure is in your state, check the DHS REAL ID page.
My story this week for USA TODAY tries to break down what you need to know about getting that REAL ID we’ve been hearing about.
The deadline is coming up on October 1, 2020, so now it is getting real.
Here’s the story:
Take a look at your driver’s license.
Go ahead, we’ll wait while you fish it out of your wallet.
If your driver’s license doesn’t have a star in the
upper corner of the card and you foresee flying on a domestic commercial flight
any time after Oct 1, 2020, then your license is not Real ID compliant.
You’ll need to take action, make some decisions, or
wait for your state to get its act together.
ID Act is legislation passed in 2005 (in response to the
9/11 terrorists attacks) that set new and higher minimum security standards for
driver’s licenses and identification cards that will be accepted at airports,
other Federally regulated facilities and nuclear power plants.
Debates and pushback
from some states over the impact of Real ID have created confusion and delayed
the official rollout of the Act’s enforcement, but October 1, 2020 is now
considered the firm date for enforcement at commercial airports.
“The main pushback on
REAL ID is that it’s too big brother,” said Jeff Price, an aviation security
expert with Leading Edge Strategies, “It’s a move to make everyone in the U.S. have
identification, which tends to upset those who enjoy life off the grid or don’t
like any more government intrusion into their lives more than what is
But, Price notes,
nearly every state has come into compliance, “And there hasn’t been the big
brother/illegal shakedown issues that some people predicted,” he said.
How do you get a REAL ID compliant license and
when can you get?
Here’s where things can
The Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) has been phasing in enforcement of the REAL ID Act in
an effort to give states time to become compliant with the rules and to begin
issuing enhanced driver’s licenses and ID cards in time for the October 1, 2020
Most states are
currently in compliance (see this map) with the REAL ID Act and are able to issue upgraded licenses and IDs.
Seven states (Oregon,
Oklahoma, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maine), plus
American Samoa, have been granted extensions with varying deadlines for meeting
the rules. (Some have until August 1, 2019 while others have until October 1,
California’s status regarding REAL ID compliance is listed as “Under Review” with a much shorter deadline of May 24, 2019 for achieving compliance.
It is possible these extensions will be extended if the states show they’re making progress. But time is running short.
What this means:
If your current driver’s
license or ID card is from a compliant state, TSA will accept it at airports
until September 30, 2020. Starting October 1, 2020, though, licenses and IDs from
these – and every state – will need to bear a star or special symbol that shows
it has been upgraded to conform to the new minimum security standards.
If your current license
is from one of the seven states that has been given an extension, or from
California, then it is good until the date the extension expires. After that,
if the state isn’t given another extension, is it possible TSA will require an
additional or alternate form of ID (i.e. a passport) between the extension
expiration date and September 30, 2020.
Come October 1, 2020,
though, licenses from these extension states will also need to have the star or
symbol that shows is has been upgraded to meet the new minimum security
Getting ready for October 1, 2020
Signs about the REAL ID
deadline are going up now in airports across the country.
October 1, 2020 seems
far off, but it is ‘just’ a year a half away. And there’s sure to be continued confusion
and delays in getting upgraded licenses and ID cards from state agencies.
For that reason, the Transportation
Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, airports and
travel agents are urging travelers to renew their driver’s licenses or state
IDs early and to be sure to opt for the ‘enhanced’ or ‘compliant’ versions
which, we should warn you, require additional paperwork and may cost more than
the ‘for-driving-only’ or ‘unenhanced’ versions in some states.
Or, you can decide if you are comfortable flying domestically with your passport (if you have on; only about 40% of Americans do ) or with one of the other forms of approved identification on this list.
If you plan on traveling any time next year, the question is a pertinent one. Travelers with driver’s licenses from New York, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Louisiana, American Samoa or another state or territory the Department of Homeland Security deems not-compliant with the federal REAL ID act may soon be barred from using theirs as legal identification at the airport.
Up in the air, however, is whether “soon” means early or late 2016 — or a year or more.
DHS has already completed three separate phases of its REAL ID enforcement plan, which covers access to nuclear plants and a wide array of federally protected facilities. However, the next phase adds commercial aircraft to the agency’s access list, and will take place sometime after the turn of the calendar year.
The exact rollout date will be announced soon, said DHS spokeswoman Amanda DeGroff adding that the agency will “ensure that the traveling public has ample notice before any changes are made that could possibly affect their travel planning.”
Until then, DeGroff said the Transportation Security Administration will continue to accept state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards from all states.
Congress enacted REAL ID back in 2005 as an anti-terrorism measure that sets minimum standards for states that issue licenses and state identification. The catch is that DHS is barring federal agencies, in this case the Transportation Security Administration, from accepting state IDs that fall short of the more stringent criteria.
This means some travelers may be in for an unpleasant surprise at airports next year.
While almost two dozen states issue driver’s licenses that are compliant with the law, numerous others have raised privacy and cost concerns. They, along with some independent advocacy groups, actively oppose the measure.
Some states, like Oklahoma, have laws on their books that explicitly prohibit complying with REAL ID; meanwhile, about two dozen non-complaint states have been granted extensions.
It’s unlikely the rule will take effect January 1, given the hurdles to compliance and the broad opposition.
“We expect that New Yorkers with standard-issue licenses will have more than a year notice before any change is implemented,” said Casey McNulty, a spokesman for the Empire State’s Department of Motor Vehicles. “New York has also applied for an extension to the law.”
When the final phase does ultimately take effect, travelers age 18 and over from states that remain non-compliant will need to a secondary or alternate form of identification. These include a U.S. passport or passport card, or one of the documents TSA’s authorized ID list, to pass through airport security checkpoints.
Travelers who do a little planning shouldn’t have a problem getting on their planes, but “rushes on passports will likely result in delays in getting applications processed,” noted Andrew Meehan, policy director of advocacy group Keeping Identities Safe and a Real ID supporter.
Still, “airports in noncompliant states will likely see long lines as travelers unaware of the changes will be turned away.”