Years after Congress first imposed the requirement — and well behind most other states — New Jersey is making so-called Real ID driver’s licenses available to the public, ahead of the October 2020 deadline when a standard license will no longer work to get past security checkpoints at the nation’s airports.
State Motor Vehicle Commission chief administrator Sue Fulton on Wednesday announced what she called a “phased rollout” of the new licenses, the outgrowth of a national security recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to provide a standardized protection against identity theft.
Starting tomorrow, the MVC will reach out to the 55,000 people who have already signed up for Real ID to make appointments at the agency’s regional facility in Trenton, where MVC personnel have been testing the agency’s new equipment and procedures for processing applications. Fulton estimated that, initially at least, appointments could take 45 minutes or more, as customers and MVC customer service personnel become accustomed to processing the added documentation required for a Real ID.
Fulton said that the agency was also starting to test its Real ID system at five other locations and that some customers who have already signed up would be asked to serve as test subjects as they go through the lengthy process of acquiring the federally sanctioned license. Fulton wouldn’t divulge those locations, saying she didn’t want them to be overwhelmed by customers as testing was underway.
Fulton said the testing would continue for three weeks before regular applications were taken, on an appointment-only basis. Other locations would then be brought online — first for testing, and then for regular processing of applications.
There are some six million drivers in New Jersey, but Fulton noted that not all of them will need to get a Real ID. Even after the deadline a year from now, valid passports will suffice at TSA checkpoints, and standard New Jersey licenses will work for nonfederal identification purposes, including driving.
Real ID ready
Most other states either have their Real ID systems up and operating or are further along in the process than New Jersey. Fulton said the MVC has encountered some “bumps in the road” in the form of equipment purchases by the Christie administration that were ill-suited to the increased demands of processing Real ID applications.
She said, though, the delay had allowed the state to learn from problems encountered by other states.
“NJ avoids the kind of long lines and missteps that other states have experienced with Real ID,” she said. “We were not willing to subject our residents to hours and hours of wait times just so that we could say we checked the box.”
The state has upgraded its systems, hired 300 additional workers and also made it possible for more regular MVC business, like renewing or replacing a regular license, to be completed online, Fulton said.
She offered assurances that the time required to get a Real ID license would shorten as workers and the public became more familiar with the process.
On track for success
“Even though this administration took over far behind other states in issuing Real ID, we are on track now to be one of the most successful in the country, achieving the goal of ensuring that New Jerseyans who want Real ID are able to get it before they need it,” she said.
Still, applicants should expect to spend more time at the MVC than they usually do, and for the process to be lengthier and more rigorous. Presenting proper paperwork is crucial. Multiple proofs of identification and address are required, and names need to match. Original documents are required, not computer printouts, and each will be reviewed twice and then scanned into a real-time security analyzer.
The Real ID license — which costs the same as a regular license, $11 — comes with a yellow star in the upper right-hand corner, signifying it is the real deal.
It took NJTV reporter Joanna Gagis about an hour to get a Real ID license, even though she brought appropriate documents to the Trenton agency — in her case, a mortgage statement, Social Security card and receipt, passport and debit card.
“Real ID has different requirements than our current driver’s license,” Fulton said. “Don’t come into the agency without the right documents — because we’ll have to send you home. We have to follow the Real ID requirements.”
Fulton said detailed instructions can be found at the website set up by the state.
According to the federal Department of Homeland Security, the Real ID is also needed to access federal facilities, like military bases, or to enter nuclear power plants.