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In future, driver's licenses may be mailed to you
Scripps Howard News Service


June 19, 2005

Soon to be gone are the days when you could walk out of your local Department of Motor Vehicle office, putting your new driver's license in your wallet on the same day you make an application.

That's one of the changes expected to come under a new federal law known as the Real ID Act. Drivers will have to present verified proof of birth data, citizenship and residency to get a new license.

Because DMV officials are going to have to verify the information - and that process will take some time - experts predict that most busy DMV offices soon will send licenses and renewals via the U.S. mail, just like most U.S. passports are currently delivered.

Jason King, spokesman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said 42 states currently verify Social Security information on license applications, but no states are verifying birth certificate or other documentation that the Real ID Act requires.

"I think it is fair to say you may not get your license on the day you go to DMV," King said. "It may take DMV some time to do its homework."

King said states haven't yet completed their assessment of the full impact that the Real ID Act will have on their operations, and some changes are awaiting federal regulations, which have yet to be drafted by the Department of Homeland Security.

Although the Real ID Act doesn't take full effect until May 2008, some states are expected to phase in changes over the next three years. One key provision of the law President Bush signed last month takes effect this September, when state DMV offices are required to use federal databases to verify the legal status of all non-citizens applying for licenses.

Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles is already making changes to comply with the law, and says that within two years it will only use its DMV offices to do the initial paperwork and have pictures taken.

At the end of this process, applicants won't get a license as currently happens, but will be given a receipt printed on secure paper. Virginia DMV Commissioner D.B. Smit said the receipt will permit people to drive until their new license comes in the mail, but the receipt cannot be used as an identification card.

Cheye Calvo, director of the transportation committee at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the Real ID Act will change operations in local DMV offices.

"There are serious operational challenges for state DMVs," he said. Adding five to eight minutes to the time clerks spend processing individual applications can only result in longer lines at local DMV offices, or additional costs to states for hiring DMV staff to do the work, he said. More than 40 million driver's licenses are issued in the United States each year.

Calvo said there are other costly provisions in the law requiring states to establish secure locations where paper copies of the documents people use to obtain a license are to be kept for at least seven years. That is likely to require physical changes at the 3,000 DMV offices around the country.

Reed Stager, vice president of public policy for Digimarc, a contractor that currently provides licenses in 32 states and 20 foreign countries, said the changes won't pose major hurdles for many states, and technology is available to shorten the process.

"What's going to keep the lines short is the amount of automation," Stager said.

The Real ID Act says applicants will have to supply DMV offices with documentation of their date of birth, proof of their Social Security number or a document showing they are a legal resident not eligible for Social Security, and a utility bill or other documentation of their residency. People who move will be prohibited from getting a license in their new state of residency until their license in the previous state is canceled.

Colleen Gilbert, executive director of the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License, a New York-based nonprofit group, said the new verification procedures will prevent people from getting multiple licenses.

"It's going to be a huge hit on crime because people will not be able to change their name and get another driver's license because they're avoiding a DUI (driving under the influence) conviction, or a child-support order," she said. "It's going to have a huge security impact."

Gilbert expects that applying for licenses will require more time in DMV lines, "but I'm from New York and I expect to spend a day at the DMV, so it's not any more of a problem than it now takes."

Another provision of the law that has to be ironed out in the next three years involves what additional information the government is requiring to be added to the finished license. The federal new licenses must contain "common machine readable technology with defined data elements."

Privacy organizations protest that could open the door to federal regulations requiring digitalized fingerprints, iris scans or even radio frequency identification chips like those the State Department is considering for inclusion in U.S. passports. But at the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, King suggested it only means bar codes, which are already embedded in the back of U.S. driver's licenses.

King said the new procedures for issuing licenses should give the public confidence in the future that the information on them has been verified. "It's the one document Americans have chosen to use as their chief means of identification," he said.


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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