Fun—and Not-So-Fun—Facts about REAL ID

As most Americans know by now, starting October 2020 we will need a REAL ID driver’s license or ID card to board a domestic flight in the United States. The implementation of REAL ID has taken many years, with each state experiencing the rollout in its own way, as the following facts will illustrate.

Fun facts:

The first and last states to start issuing REAL ID credentials:

  • Indiana was the first state to start issuing REAL ID driver’s licenses and ID cards, in 2010.
  • Oklahoma and Oregon will be the last states to start issuing REAL ID cards, sometime in 2020.

The states with the most unique REAL ID symbols on the credentials they issue are:

  • California, with star cutout in gold grizzly bear, and
  • Maine, with a gold state outline with star cutout

States with the highest and lowest percentage of citizens issued REAL ID credentials (as of September 2019):

  • Georgia has issued REAL ID cards to 96.2% of its population. The state has been issuing REAL ID cards since 2012.
  • Louisiana has issued REAL ID cards to just 10% of its drivers. The state started issuing REAL ID cards in 2016.


Not-so-fun facts:

It’s inevitable that an undertaking as large as rolling out REAL ID will create problems and pitfalls. The most commonly-reported problems include the following:

Obstacles DMVs have encountered:

  • The Department of Homeland Security changed certain REAL ID rules and requirements after many states began the implementation process.
  • Outdated computer systems proved inadequate to handle the extra workload created by REAL ID.
  • The need to hire more employees, train staff in REAL ID processes, and offer longer office hours to handle increasing customer demand.
  • Trouble keeping up with demand for production of new credentials.

Problems DMV customers have encountered:

  • Late or confusing public information campaigns in some states, compounded by misinformation in the media.
  • Problems finding necessary documents to prove one’s identity. Examples: An elderly person must present a long-lost birth certificate to get an ID card. And a married woman must provide proof of her name change.
  • Appointment overload at DMV offices, with some customers unable to make an appointment before their current licenses expire.
  • Long lines at DMV offices, even for those who have appointments.
  • Delays in receiving their new credentials by mail.
  • Uncertainty among retailers and banks about accepting standard (non-REAL ID) credentials as proof of identity.

In an extreme example, California Governor Gavin Newsom assembled a DMV “Strike Team” to analyze the seemingly overwhelming problems that beset the state’s DMV operations.

We would all be wise to consider what I heard a DMV administrator from the East Coast point out two years ago: “The department of motor vehicles was created to issue and administer driver’s licenses and vehicle registration, not to manage and issue credentials to be used as national ID, with criteria set by the federal government.” Yet the DMV has gradually become the de facto issuer and manager of the credentials most Americans use as personal identification: the driver’s license.


Coastal Courier

California DMV Strike Team



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