Don’t fret: your driver’s license is good at all airports until 2018

Scary headlines and misinformation about driver’s licenses from certain states no longer being accepted as valid forms of identification at some of the nation’s airports led the Department of Homeland Security to send a “chill out” message to air travelers on Friday.

“Right now, no individual needs to adjust travel plans, or rush out to get a new driver’s license or a passport for domestic air travel,” DHS secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement.

But, come 2018, DHS will have new travel advice for some fliers.

DHS has been charged with implementing the REAL ID Act of 2005 which, at the behest of the 9/11 Commission, set nationwide security standards for driver’s licenses and IDs. It has let slide numerous deadlines for setting an implementation date for applying the REAL ID Act to air travel, but the agency has finally issued what it says is a firm timetable.

Johnson said residents of all states may continue to use a state-issued driver’s license or identification card (and a variety of alternate forms of identification) for domestic air travel until January 22, 2018.

Kontron NOW - VIDEO Avionics_300x300_watchVideoAfter that date, travelers with a driver’s license from any state not compliant with the REAL ID Act (and from states that haven’t received compliance extensions) will need to bring an alternative form of identification with them to the airport checkpoint.

(A map showing the status of compliant states and those with extensions is being maintained here. Currently Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington and American Samoa don’t comply with Real ID standards and don’t have extensions in place.)

By October 1, 2020, DHS will require every passenger to have a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a valid alternate form of identification to pass through TSA checkpoints at airports.

Claiming concerns about privacy rights and the costs of implementing the new ID standards, some states have passed laws to put off adopting the REAL ID Act standards. But Johnson said the new timetable and the extensions that have been issued should give those states time to change those laws.

“I urge state government leaders to take immediate action to comply with the REAL ID Act, to ensure the continued ability of their residents to fly unimpeded,” said Johnson, “It is time to move toward final compliance with this law.”

To help move things forward, DHS said it will continue to work with states “to encourage compliance” and will immediately start publicizing the REAL ID timetable to the traveling public.

In July, 2016 TSA will get involved in the outreach and education program, with on-line advisories about REAL ID and, starting in December, 2016, with signs and handouts at airport checkpoints.

“Having a hard deadline for Real ID compliance is almost a relief for travelers,” said Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs for the US Travel Association, “the growing misinformation wasn’t helping anyone.”

While he worries that making some Americans’ drivers’ licenses not acceptable for air travel could “have a chilling effect on our economy,” he’s confident non-compliant states and the federal government will work out their differences.

“Striking the correct balance between security and convenience is not and should not be a zero-sum policymaking game,” said Grella.

On its website, the DHS lists answers to a wide variety frequently asked questions about REAL ID, including one that a variety of privacy rights groups have raised: “Is DHS trying to build a national database with all of our information?”

DHS’s answer is no: “Each jurisdiction continues to issue its own unique license, maintains its own records, and controls who gets access to those records and under what circumstances. The purpose of REAL ID is to make our identity documents more consistent and secure.”