Florida drivers license rules need to be changed

Florida students who have waited to get driver’s licenses or who need to get their licenses renewed must be more prepared than ever at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices, thanks to new rules designed to weed out fake license applicants.

The rules, which became effective Jan. 1, are in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act, which Congress passed partly in response to news that several of the 9/11 hijackers were able to get Florida driver’s licenses.

It may be doing more harm than good, however. Since the rules went into effect, half a million licenses have been issued – 260,000 less than last year, according to Capitol News Service. Many are having trouble complying with the new regulations that require four forms of identification.

Previously, applicants needed only two forms of identification: a U.S. birth certificate, passport or similar document and almost any official document with the applicant’s birth date on it.

Applicants now need their birth certificates, valid passports or similar documents, their Social Security cards or certain official documents with Social Security Numbers and two proofs of residential address, such as utility bills or voter registration cards.

Applicants who need their licenses renewed are given a one-time “convenience” option to renew online or via mail, but will need all four forms of identification for every subsequent renewal.

A name on all documents must also match perfectly. If someone’s name changed because of marriage or divorce, that person will need to verify the change with documents like original marriage certificates or certified copies.

These requirements are unnecessarily strict, as birth certificates can be lost and people who move may have trouble verifying their new addresses. Since Florida has implemented it, the REAL ID initiative has largely failed on the national level.

Each license issued through the REAL ID process will have a special security mark to distinguish it from old licenses. According to the guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), federal agencies will stop recognizing old licenses by Dec. 1, 2014.

However, that seems unlikely as many states have yet to comply with the new law, which went into national effect in May 2008. Florida received an extension that pushed the date to January 2010. DHS then extended the national deadline to next year.

Some states are actively refusing to comply. The Utah House of Representatives passed a bill last month to officially opt out of the program. Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, the bill’s sponsor, said to the House that 15 states have already opted out and 13 others might, too.

The REAL ID Act was designed to create national standards for issuing driver’s licenses, but standards would only work if the initiative is implemented across the board. Florida needs to consider scrapping the new rules altogether.