Politics & Government

More than 12,000 North Carolinians get REAL IDs in first 3 weeks

The REAL ID looks and works like a North Carolina driver’s license but has a gold star in the upper right-hand corner that indicates a person has met stricter federal identification requirements that go into effect in 2020.
The REAL ID looks and works like a North Carolina driver’s license but has a gold star in the upper right-hand corner that indicates a person has met stricter federal identification requirements that go into effect in 2020. NCDMV

More than 12,000 North Carolinians have obtained REAL IDs since the state Division of Motor Vehicles began issuing them May 1.

The optional IDs will help North Carolina residents board airplanes and enter federal buildings, military bases and nuclear facilities more easily when stricter federal ID requirements go into effect in the fall of 2020. REAL IDs are still a small fraction of the IDs the DMV has issued over the last three weeks, but agency officials say the number has exceeded their expectations.

“We are thrilled that North Carolinians have embraced the new option so quickly,” state Department of Transportation Chief Deputy Secretary David Howard said in a statement Monday.

The REAL ID looks and works like a driver’s license but has a gold star in the upper right-hand corner. The star indicates that a person has met identification standards spelled out in the federal REAL ID Act. Congress passed the law in 2005 in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

REAL IDs account for a little more than 7 percent of the 167,832 driver’s licenses and IDs issued by DMV since May 1 as of Tuesday morning. DMV spokeswoman Patrice Bethea said the agency didn’t expect higher numbers “simply because it’s a new form of identification and it’s an option.”

“We never anticipated that it would be something everyone would want to get right out of the gate,” Bethea said.

Bethea said the agency has not heard of any concerns about the new identification that would explain why relatively few people are opting to get it now. She thinks some people may change their minds as the federal requirement approaches in 2 1/2 years.

To get a REAL ID, applicants must provide documents that show who they are, where they were born, where they live and that they have a Social Security number. The documents that meet the requirements include a birth certificate, a valid U.S. passport or immigration documents, and a Social Security card or W-2 form, copies of which will remain on file at DMV.

The federal government will begin requiring REAL IDs for commercial air travel and access to other federal facilities on Oct. 1, 2020. Those without a state-issued REAL ID still will be able to board a plane with a standard driver’s license and one form of identification spelled out in the federal law, such as a passport.

The REAL ID costs the same as a standard driver’s license or identification card. It can be obtained at the time of driver’s license renewal, or before the renewal period for the cost of a duplicate.

The state DMV spent years making changes to its identification system to meet 39 REAL ID guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Bethea said. They include a redesigned license with new security features, background checks for every employee who handles licenses and a new centralized system for mailing IDs, rather than issuing them at individual DMV offices.

“It was a heavy lift for sure,” Bethea said.

More information on North Carolina’s REAL ID is available at NCREALID.com.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

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