The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has again postponed the deadline for compliance with the REAL ID Act 2005 – this time, until 3 May 2023. Under the REAL ID Act, federal agencies may not accept state-issued driver's licences or ID cards for 'official purposes' – including clearance through Transport Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints at airports – unless those documents meet certain minimum requirements. REAL ID-compliant licences will have a marking on the upper top portion of the card (eg, a star). The deadline extension is welcome news for US airlines and the US travel industry as they work to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on domestic and international travel.
Many US travellers remain unaware of the requirements of the REAL ID Act and the need to obtain a REAL ID-compliant licence. According to the DHS, only 43% of eligible US adults have a REAL ID-compliant licence. This is problematic because once the REAL ID Act takes effect, passengers who arrive at a US airport will have to present a REAL ID-compliant licence or an alternative acceptable document (eg, a passport) to proceed through TSA checkpoints. Those who do not will likely be turned away and unable to travel until they obtain TSA-acceptable identification, which could cause significant disruption for passengers and airlines.
DHS has extended the deadline before in light of the rate of adoption of compliant driver's licences in some states, but this latest extension is also attributable to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which include:
- state departments of motor vehicles' (DMVs') extensions of deadlines to renew expiring licences;
- fewer DMV visits during the pandemic; and
- DMVs operating at reduced capacity to process renewals because of a shift to appointment-only scheduling.
This two-year extension will give travellers additional time to secure REAL ID-compliant documentation.
Further, to enhance REAL ID compliance, the DHS issued a request for information (RFI) to inform an upcoming rulemaking that would address security standards and requirements for the issuance of REAL ID-compliant mobile or digital driver's licences. Comments in response to the RFI are due by 18 June 2021.