Slow-mo­tion mess un­folds at PennDOT

With a year to go, only a frac­tion of driv­ers have ap­plied for new and se­cure li­censes

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Short­ell

A year from to­day, Real ID will be­come the law of the land. All adult pas­sen­gers fly­ing on do­mes­tic com­mer­cial flights will need to present a Real ID to pass through se­cu­rity check­points and board their planes.

But avi­a­tion and PennDOT of­fi­cials say the num­ber of Penn­syl­va­ni­ans with Real ID has lagged far be­hind the an­tic­i­pated need. Bar­ring a dra­matic re­ver­sal, it’s in­evitable that trav­el­ers will learn the hard way about the tight­en­ing se­cu­rity laws for air travel, said Deb­bie Bow­man, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Avi­a­tion Coun­cil of Penn­syl­va­nia.

“The fam­ily that has saved for over a year or two for a trip to Dis­ney, they’re go­ing to show up at the air­port and they’re not go­ing to be al­lowed through be­cause they don’t

have Real ID,” Bow­man said.

In the wake of 9/11, Congress passed a law re­quir­ing state iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards meet spe­cific stan­dards to be rec­og­nized for fed­eral pur­poses such as board­ing a do­mes­tic flight, go­ing into fed­eral of­fices or en­ter­ing a nu­clear power plant. These changes were in­tended to stan­dard­ize the vet­ting process, a re­sponse to sev­eral of the 9/11 ter­ror­ists hav­ing le­gal state driver’s li­censes.

Driver’s li­censes are the most com­mon form of Real ID, and Penn­syl­va­nia of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that 2.5 mil­lion res­i­dents will need them to board do­mes­tic flights or en­ter some fed­eral fa­cil­i­ties. Bow­man said the Avi­a­tion Coun­cil believes the state es­ti­mate is low and that 4 mil­lion peo­ple will need Real ID driver’s li­censes.

No mat­ter what the ac­tual to­tal is, the num­ber of Penn­syl­va­ni­ans with Real ID is nowhere near that amount. As of mid-Septem­ber, about 372,000 Penn­syl­va­ni­ans re­ceived a Real ID driver’s li­cense, PennDOT spokes­woman Me­lanie Bald­win said. Even if you con­sider that thou­sands of Penn­syl­va­ni­ans will be able to use other Real IDs such as mil­i­tary IDs or a valid pass­port, the low num­ber of Real ID driver’s li­censes has ex­perts wor­ried.

At this point, 177,000 peo­ple would need to ap­ply for and re­ceive a Real ID ev­ery month to meet the state’s es­ti­mate. PennDOT believes about 1.3 mil­lion Penn­syl­va­ni­ans will have a Real ID driver’s li­cense by the Oct. 1, 2020, start date, Bald­win said.

Tom Stoudt, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Le­high-Northamp­ton Air­port Author­ity, wor­ries that peo­ple are wait­ing un­til closer to the dead­line be­fore ap­ply­ing. If that’s the case, the state’s li­cense cen­ters will be swarmed with peo­ple late next year. He fears the cen­ters could re­sem­ble a Best Buy on Black Fri­day with lines out the door.

“It’s not like you’re los­ing any money by go­ing early. There is noth­ing to be gained by wait­ing. If you wait, you’re go­ing to lose your win­dow,” Stoudt said.

He also stressed that while some peo­ple may not plan to fly, it may pay off to be pre­pared for an emer­gency. Some­thing as com­mon as a sick rel­a­tive in an­other state could cre­ate a sud­den need to travel quickly. Not hav­ing a Real ID handy would make an al­ready stress­ful sit­u­a­tion worse, he said. Most peo­ple don’t leave home with­out a driver’s li­cense, mak­ing it a safer in­vest­ment than a pass­port that may be stored out of sight, he said.

“I’m telling you, one of the things peo­ple are go­ing to leave at home in their safe is their pass­port,” Stoudt said.

Wait­ing to get a Real ID could cre­ate is­sues if ap­pli­cants en­counter a snag, Bald­win and Bow­man said. Penn­syl­va­nia driv­ers are re­quired to present a proof of iden­tity (typ­i­cally a state-rec­og­nized birth cer­tifi­cate), their So­cial Se­cu­rity card and two proofs of res­i­dency such as a bank state­ment or a util­ity bill. If the driver’s name no longer matches the name on their birth cer­tifi­cate — if they mar­ried or were adopted, for ex­am­ple — they would be re­quired to present doc­u­men­ta­tion show­ing the name changes from their birth cer­tifi­cate name to their cur­rent name.

“While it is true the date is a year away, cus­tomers need to know that if they want a Real ID be­fore the Oct. 1, 2020, date, they need to start now to make sure they have all the doc­u­ments needed,” Bald­win said.

Ac­quir­ing the right doc­u­men­ta­tion can be tricky, Bow­man said. Hospi­tals used to hand out unofficial birth cer­tifi­cates, and many ap­pli­cants don’t re­al­ize the dif­fer­ence un­til they’re in line at the li­cense cen­ter. Oth­ers may have lost their So­cial Se­cu­rity cards or may need to visit county courts to ac­quire mar­riage cer­tifi­cates or di­vorce doc­u­ments to note name changes.

The process has been com­pli­cated by Penn­syl­va­nia’s ef­forts to stymie coun­ter­feit­ers, Bow­man said. PennDOT changed the look of its li­censes in 2017, right around the time the state agreed to com­ply with Real ID re­quire­ments. As a re­sult, many driv­ers mis­tak­enly be­lieve they have a Real ID, she said. The eas­i­est way to spot a Real ID is to look for a gold star in the top right corner.

Bow­man could only laugh when she re­counted how her adult daugh­ter made this mis­take even though Bow­man spent the last two years try­ing to raise aware­ness about what Real ID is.

“I think there’s go­ing to be a great deal of con­fu­sion,” Bow­man said. “It is go­ing to take a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

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