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Get your Real ID driver’s license: October 2020 is coming. You don’t want to be stranded at the airport.

Chicago Tribune

Monday, December 2, 2019  |  Editorial  |  Editorial Board

Driver's Licenses (80b)

October 1, 2020, may sound as distant as Jupiter, but do not be fooled or you may miss your flight. No, not to Jupiter. To Cleveland, or Phoenix, or any domestic destination.


Next October is the deadline to obtain a new form of driver’s license known as Real ID. Unless you visit the DMV before that date to apply for and receive a Real ID license, then starting Oct. 1 you will risk being barred from boarding an airplane or entering a federal facility such as a courthouse.


Why the relatively tight deadline? Tribal politics. Illinois officials of the Democratic persuasion didn’t like being told to obey a national security mandate — no jobs for precinct captains there — with roots in the President George W. Bush years.


So the Illinois officials whined and whimpered and dragged their feet — and got deadline extensions until the federal government finally had enough. Many other, more functional states have been issuing Real ID for several years. So their residents haven’t been jammed the way Illinoisans now are.


May we repeat for emphasis? Anyone who uses an Illinois driver’s license as identification must go to a secretary of state’s office before next October to obtain a Real ID. Regular licenses will no longer be valid as federal ID. Certain other forms of ID, such as a passport or military ID, will still get you past security at the airport or into a federal courthouse. But effective Oct. 1, 2020, your current driver’s license won’t get you past Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at the airport to board a domestic air flight.


Consider this a friendly nudge, especially to procrastinators, because come October 2020 we don’t want to hear about ruined honeymoons or stranded college students.


We recognize the temptation to put off this bureaucratic hassle. We ventured to a secretary of state’s office on a recent Saturday morning with our collection of documents to join the line for Real ID. The process took three hours. We didn’t love the experience. No matter. The task is now complete. Score one for planning and sticktoitiveness. (Mom, thank you for that.)


Real ID’s origin dates to the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Some of the hijackers used driver’s licenses and other ordinary identifications to board aircraft.


The 9/11 Commission report identified airport security as a vulnerability and a crucial backstop — “the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.” The report recommended that the federal government tighten the standards for obtaining a driver’s license.


It took years to implement the Real ID program, but it’s here now. Residents can still use and obtain a regular license, but (Alert! Alert! ) in order to fly or enter a secure federal building starting Oct. 1, 2020, the new version (or one of those few other IDs that qualify as a substitute) will be required.


Real ID looks similar to a traditional Illinois driver’s license but includes a star logo in the upper right corner. To get a license with the telltale star, an applicant must show several documents: proof of identity (a passport or birth certificate); proof of Social Security number (Social Security card or W-2 form); two current residency documents with address (examples: utility bill and bank statement); proof of signature. Consult the state secretary of state’s website for details.


Getting this new form of ID is an inconvenience. So is the alternative of carrying a passport to fly domestically. But tightened security is a necessary reality.


Real ID is coming. Time flies. Get to a secretary of state’s office at the earliest opportunity.


And come October, don’t say nobody warned you.