Pandemic delays the REAL ID compliance deadline



The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended the Oct. 1, 2020, REAL ID credential deadline for one year. Departments of Motor Vehicles across the nation were forced to close or reduce services in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, making it difficult for Americans to obtain a REAL ID-compliant license. When the extension was announced in March, DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf stated the delay also will give the federal government more time to work with the states to optimize issuance of REAL IDs. REAL IDs will be required to board domestic commercial flights starting Oct. 1, 2021.

Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to enhance national standards for driver’s licenses and modernize how they are produced and distributed. On Sept. 10, 2020, the DHS announced that after 15 years, all 50 states are in full compliance with the REAL ID’s guidelines. More than 110 million REAL IDs have been issued, accounting for 40 percent of all valid driver’s licenses and other identification cards. Travelers without a REAL ID will still be able to use a U.S. passport or military ID to fly, but the low rate of REAL IDs in circulation remains an issue.

According to a March report by the U.S. Travel Association, an estimated 84 million Americans do not have REAL ID-compliant identification. The report also cited that 39 percent of Americans are not aware that starting Oct. 1, 2020, they will need a REAL ID to board a flight. The travel and tourism industry has been decimated by the pandemic, and the above figures could pose a threat to the industry’s recovery. In a press release, USTA President and CEO Roger Dow called attention to the additional complications REAL ID enforcement caused by the pandemic, noting that “as we move toward a recovery phase, it would be terrible if the REAL ID deadline hits and creates yet another obstacle to people traveling. To get this economy moving again, people need to be able to move again.”

Congress also is looking to optimize the REAL ID. In July, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) introduced the REAL ID Modernization Act, which would streamline ID application processes, promote visibility of the REAL ID requirements on travel websites, and validate electronic licenses for travel. Raising public awareness and modernizing the 15-year-old REAL ID Act will help avoid disruption to domestic travel. As the extended deadline approaches, it is important to check and see if you are REAL ID-compliant. Appointments at your local DMV could be booked up, and processing your application can take weeks, so make it a priority to get compliant today.


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