Getting a Real ID Driver’s License Will Drive You Crazy

Getting a Real ID Driver’s License Will Drive You Crazy

Our daughter warned us. She needed to take half a day off from work to renew her license and get the Real ID version that will be required to board an airplane in a year. She arrived when the facility opened and joined a line snaking around the building. Four hours later, she left with her temporary license. But she noted that there was a separate line for seniors, so maybe it wouldn’t be as much of an ordeal for her father/my husband/Fred. Right.

Fred received a single-spaced letter addressed to “Dear Friend” from his friend, Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State. The letter included bold, underlined, and bold plus underlined material (never a good sign), all crammed onto the front side, with a list of every driver services facility in the state on the back side. It warned him to bring the letter, along with many pieces of identification, if he wanted the Real ID license. Just in case his senior eyes could not make out all of the things he needed to bring, the following was also enclosed:


Upon arrival, the same line our daughter had encountered the previous week wrapped around the building. There was no signage about an express line for seniors, but after waiting a bit in the long line, Fred decided to take his chances and enter the building. Yes, there was a shorter line inside for seniors. Unfortunately, every person in that line had some issue with their identification. Most were turned away and told to return another time. What were these issues?

Proof of identity, date of birth and US citizenship or lawful status

If you did not have a passport (and most in line did not) you needed an original, certified birth certificate. Many brought copies and were told to come back when they had obtained an original. One woman had her original birth certificate but her name was different because she had been married and divorced. For her, the task was to return with a certified marriage certificate and a certified divorce decree.

Full social security number

Seems that many seniors could not find their social security cards. They would have been allowed to bring a W-2 or pay stub with the number on it, but many seniors also are no longer working. One man brought his pension form, which included his social security number. For some reason, that was not acceptable, so it was off to the social security office for a new card and come back when he had it.


Here you needed two forms of proof, but they had to have the full residence address. The list looks rather generous (see above copy of acceptable documents), but the clerk helping Fred declared that the insurance policy he brought was the wrong kind. Good thing he had several items as back-up plans. Also, good that he did not have to resort to his high school or college report card, as that address was definitely wrong.


Written signature

Finally, a requirement that didn’t seem to trip up anyone in the senior line.

In addition to all of the papers required, the entire experience was unpleasant and inefficient. Clerks were overwhelmed and not inclined to be friendly or helpful. The vision tester spent ten minutes complaining about how she hated this assignment, then wasted another fifteen minutes by mistyping information into her computer, followed by making copies of all of his documents. He was given the wrong number for his license photo because a clerk thought he needed a road test. There was no remedy for this error. Just wait a little longer, he was told.

In all, there were five lines to get through to get a Real ID driver’s license:

  • Show your documents and take a number for vision test if you pass go and your documents are in order.
  • Wait in line to take your picture.
  • Get in another line for the vision test where the clerk fills out computer forms and makes copies of all of your documents.
  • Go to the cashier and wait to pay. By the way, the clerk was annoyed that she had to make change from $20 for the $5 fee.
  • Finally, go to a line to wait for your temporary license.

I’m wondering if things would go more smoothly if there were separate days for people who just want a regular driver’s license and people who want the Real ID. Apparently, the facility decided with no advance notice not to process Real IDs the previous day, and there were people in line who had to miss a second day of work. Perhaps having people make appointments in advance would alleviate some of the crowding. Clearly, staffing is an issue because when staff members took breaks (to which they were entitled) the process became even slower.

This is a warning to people who have to renew their driver’s licenses and want the Real ID. The Secretary of State’s office and DMV must know this new system is time consuming, but there is no efficient system in place. Even though the letter and special handout are hard to read, take the time to be sure you have what they require. Don’t cut it too close to your renewal date in case you need to go through another bureaucratic nightmare to obtain a document. Assume it will take hours, and that is during the week. I can’t imagine what Saturdays must be like.

Ironically, it is much easier to obtain a TSA/global entry card than to renew a driver’s license and get the Real ID. Homeland Security at the airport takes appointments, requires fewer documents, asks a few questions, takes your picture, fingerprints you, and you are on your way, all in under ten minutes. Perhaps the State of Illinois could take a page from that playbook.



Leave a comment