Sports planners who will be moving athletes by air, take note: The REAL ID Act was passed by Congress in 2005 in response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” It sounds like a solid idea: the legislation establishes minimum security standards for the issue of driver’s licenses. It also prohibits federal agencies from accepting any driver’s licenses that don’t meet the Act’s minimum standards.
Unfortunately, not all states’ driver’s licenses meet the federal government’s minimum standards. Some of these states have been granted extensions to attain compliance. As of July 2015, 23 states or territories have been deemed compliant, 28 have been granted extensions, and five are noncompliant. This means that beginning in 2016, residents of Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and American Samoa will need a backup plan (such as a passport) if they intend to board an airplane.
It’s estimated that about 70 to 80 percent of all U.S. drivers currently hold licenses from jurisdictions that have been determined to meet the Act’s standards (or have been granted extensions). For those with a driver’s license or identification card from a noncompliant state, the license will need to be accompanied by an acceptable second form of ID for boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The legislation includes a three-month “phase in” period in which federal agencies must provide notice to individuals attempting to use driver’s licenses or identification cards from noncompliant states (and still allow access for those three months). According to the terms of the REAL ID Act, these same individuals will also be prevented from accessing many other government facilities or nuclear power plants.
While this 2016 deadline is looming on paper, there is less absolutism among government spokespeople. A spokesman for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles recently told New York’s 7 Eyewitness News that the department has not received any guidance from the federal government about when the new form of ID will be required for those holding New York driver’s licenses.
For now, the spokesman stressed a regular license is still sufficient ID to fly. There is also no evidence that any federal agencies have begun to take steps concerning the three-month phase in period. The Department of Homeland Security has assured the public “has ample advance notice before identification requirements for boarding aircraft change,” and so far, there’s no more information forthcoming. The deadline of the fourth phase of the REAL ID Act was simply given as “not before 2016.”
“For now, it’s unclear exactly when this will happen or how people will be alerted,” wrote Karina Martinez-Carter for the Web site Road Warrior Voices. “But if you’re from one of the non-compliant states and have any flights set for 2016, you might want to plan to bring a passport.”