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After initial confusion over an announcement that all D.C. residents will have to get new federally compliant driver's licenses by October, the Department of Motor Vehicles is now saying that residents with old licenses will only have to replace them once they expire.
The confusion stems over the implementation of the REAL ID Act, a 2005 law mandating increased security requirements for driver's licenses.
In a recent announcement, the DMV said that the city would start producing the compliant licenses on May 1, and that residents should try and get new cards by January, when access to certain federal buildings would be limited to holders of the new IDs.
But now DMV officials are saying that residents can wait until their old driver's licenses expire, and that only new residents and those who need to replace or renew a driver's license will have to go to a service center to do so. (The old licenses are blue and white, while new licenses are purple and include an image of cherry blossoms. Federally compliant licenses are indicated with a star in the upper right-hand corner of the card.)
"We're becoming compliant [with the federal law]," said DMV director Lucinda Babers. "Once we're compliant, our customers can wait until their licenses expire."
To date, 21 states have implemented the law, including Maryland. Twenty other states and territories, including D.C. and Virginia, were given extensions. By January, certain federal buildings that require ID to enter will only accept compliant driver's licenses, and by 2016 boarding a flight will require one of the new IDs.
But Babers said a holder of an old D.C. driver's license that expires in 2020 will still be able to board a plane with that card after the 2016 deadline for boarding planes because the city will have already started producing compliant licenses, and will thus be considered compliant with the federal law.
She admitted that the department's original communications were confusing to many license-holders. "In our attempt to clarify things, we confused everyone else," she said, referring to residents who have old licenses that will remain valid until they expire.
As WAMU 88.5 explained last week, old D.C. driver's licenses will remain valid for non-federal purposes, including driving and purchasing alcohol, as long as they have not expired.
Babers said the DMV will be sending postcards to all residents who have to renew their license within the next year to explain what documents they have to bring with them to get a new, federally compliant driver's license.