Starting on May 1, D.C. will start distributing driver's licenses that are compliant with security requirements in a new federal law.
The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles recently announced that on May 1 it will start issuing new driver's licenses and ID cards that comply with a federal law mandating increased security requirements.
The announcement has provoked plenty of questions and somewhat alarmist headlines, especially concerning an apparent October deadline after which old D.C. IDs won't be accepted to enter certain federal buildings. On Monday, The Washington Post stoked those concerns with a headline — "Starting next month, all D.C. licenses will need to be replaced. Yes, all of them" — that makes it seem like DMV centers will be overrun by residents trying to comply with the deadline.
But before you run off to the DMV, here's what you need to know.
Why a new ID?
A 2005 federal law established new standards for the production and issuance of driver licenses and identification cards, known as REAL ID. Given the enormity of having 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories produce and distribute new compliant licenses and IDs, the Department of Homeland Security has allowed jurisdictions to phase them in. According to DHS, 21 states have already produced compliant IDs, including Maryland. Twenty others — D.C. and Virginia among them — have been granted extensions in implementing the law's provisions.
What does this mean for me?
At some point, you'll need to get a new driver's license or ID card. That will mean heading down to the DMV to have your proof of identity, proof of Social Security, and proof of D.C. residency revalidated. If your D.C. license doesn't already look like the one above, it will; if it already does, you'll still get a new one with a little star in the right-hand corner indicating that it's compliant.
What are the deadlines?
The first deadline to keep in mind is Oct. 20, after which DHS says that federal facilities that require ID for entry can start denying access to anyone who doesn't have a compliant ID. By late 2016, you won't be able to use that old license or ID to get on a plane, but a passport will suffice.
So do I need to make it down to the DMV by Oct. 20?
No. If your old license or ID is valid for a while to come — this writer's license expires in 2020 — the DMV is urging you not to rush down to a service center in a panic. "[T]here is no rush for you to visit DC DMV to obtain the REAL ID credential, so we strongly recommend you wait until we notify you to come in to revalidate your documents," it said in an FAQ. As for those federal facilities, DHS says that full enforcement doesn't kick in until Jan. 2015, so that's something to keep in mind.
If I don't get a new license or ID, will I be able to get into local bars, drive my car, etc.?
Yes, says the DMV: "Your current driver license or identification card is valid until its expiration date." The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board concurs: "District alcoholic beverage laws state that any person who supplies a valid identification document showing his or her age to be the legal drinking age shall be deemed to be of legal drinking age."
The new requirements for the new licenses and ID cards are for federal purposes, not local ones. That's how D.C. is providing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants — it's specifically noting that they cannot be used for federal purposes like entering a federal building or boarding a plane, but they are legal documents for local purposes.
How about voting?
D.C. voters don't have to show ID to cast a ballot, unless they're voting with a special or provisional ballot. In that case, as long as your driver's license or ID isn't expired — regardless of whether it's new or not — you're good to go.
But without a new ID, does that mean I can't get into the Smithsonian's museums? Those are federal buildings, after all.
Fear not — the DMV says that residents with old licenses will still be able to get into federal buildings and facilities that don't require ID for entry. Museums, for one. Or the U.S. Capitol. The White House and the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center do require ID, though passports can be used instead. Still, as mentioned above, full enforcement doesn't start until Jan. 2015, per DHS.
So, what next?
Unless you need a new license — you're new to the city, your license was stolen, it's expired, or you need to change your address — the DMV says that it will notify you via email or mail when you should come down. If you wait until you're notified, the fees for a new license or ID card will be waived. If not, well, you'll have to pay for one — $44 for a compliant ID that's good for eight years.