There’s been a lot of news of late about the expiration of driver’s license regulations for New York, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Minnesota and American Samoa. In a nutshell, here’s the issue: The Real ID Act was enacted in 2005 to ensure better safety protocols for domestic flights. Here’s the wording (bolding and ellipses are mine):
“Secure driver’s licenses and identification documents are a vital component of our national security framework. The REAL ID Act … enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The Act established minimum security standards for license issuance … and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver’s licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards. The purposes covered by the Act are: accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and, no sooner than 2016, boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.”
Most states meet the requirements for driver’s licenses (basically, they have a chip that makes it harder to forge licenses), so that will be enough to board flights. But the above four states and territory do not.
Some media outlets are saying that as of January 1, 2016, you won’t be able to board a flight with one of those licenses, but that’s not technically true. The act states that Phase 4 (the one we’re worried about) will be enforced “no sooner than 2016” — which means that’s when they’ll start addressing what to do about it. It does NOT say that effective Jan 1, 2016 they will be implementing it across the board — only that that’s when they start figuring out a solution.
Travel insiders are predicting that the federal government will work something out with the remaining states to bring them into compliance, so you’ll be able to fly domestically without a passport. But there are no guarantees, of course.
So what should you do if you live in one of those states?
1. Don’t panic. Chances are, the states will work this out in the best interest of everyone involved. TSA itself has said, “DHS will provide ample notice to the public once decisions have been made.”
2. Apply for a passport anyway, not out of fear but because it’s great to have and opens up an entirely new world of travel for you!
3. Follow the news, and if you live in one of those states, check with your local airport for updates as we approach the end of 2015.
4. Finally, for official info, reach out to the DHS Office of State-Issued Identification Support at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope this helps alleviate your nerves!