At the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 directing the federal government to set tough, uniform standards for government-issued IDs, including driver’s licenses. The goal was to make it harder for terrorists or other bad actors to get an official ID. On May 1, the District of Columbia will begin issuing new driver’s licenses that comply with those standards. We examine how and when you need to get yours.


  • Lucinda Babers Director, District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles


  • 13:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to, "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the Ethiopian government cracks down arresting journalists, students and two bloggers that you may have heard interviewed on this show. But first, starting tomorrow, the District of Columbia will begin issuing new, more secure driver's licenses that comply with federal standards, developed in the aftermath of 9/11. But the rollout is prompting confusion about who needs to get a new license and when.

  • 13:07:20

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe new licenses are a result of the REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, to make it harder for terrorists and other bad actors to fraudulently acquire government issued ID's, something many of the 9/11 attackers did. It's now up to the states and the District of Columbia to comply with the new federal standards by updating the technology they use in driver's licenses and the forms of proof they accept from applicants.

  • 13:07:46

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn our region, Maryland, already complies with the new standards. And Virginia and the District of Columbia are in the process of doing so. So joining me to clear up any confusion about new licenses here in the District of Columbia is Lucinda Babers, director of the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles. Lucinda Babers, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:06

    MS. LUCINDA BABERSThank you for having me, Kojo.

  • 13:08:08

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for the director of the DMV, give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send email to or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow, if you have any questions about DC's new driver's licenses. There does seem to be a lot of confusion about who needs to get a new driver's license here in DC and when. Can you clear that up for us?

  • 13:08:32

    BABERSYes, thank you. Starting tomorrow, May 1, DC DMV will start issuing a REAL ID compliant -- federal compliant driver's license and identification card. For those individuals who have an existing credential, you do not need to come in to DMV until it's time for you to renew. Once it's time for you to renew, you will have to re-bring in certain documentation. Documentation to prove your identity, your social security number and your residency. And those particular documents that we're going to be accepting, because it has changed, is available on our website at

  • 13:09:19

    NNAMDIIs the DMV going to tell each one of us individually when it's time to renew or should we simply check the expiration date on our driver's license so that we ourselves, know when we have to renew?

  • 13:09:31

    BABERSYou can actually do both. We do send out a renewal notice, 60 days in advance, to let you know that it's time for you to renew. But we also encourage you to periodically check your credentials.

  • 13:09:44

    NNAMDIWhat happens if I don't have a driver's license that complies with the federal standards?

  • 13:09:50

    BABERSThose are the people that we're really trying to reach out to, people who, starting tomorrow, or a first-time DC resident, they're getting a credential for the first time, they're coming in to convert from, maybe, Maryland or Virginia. They have to renew, so they have to make an in-person visit because it's time for them to renew or maybe they need to get a duplicate because they're current credential is lost, stolen or they may need to change their DC address.

  • 13:10:18

    BABERSThey need to come in, starting tomorrow, with those source documents, a birth certificate or a passport for identity and social security card or a W2 form for social security number and a utility bill or some other type of document as on our website, for proof of residency.

  • 13:10:37

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with the director of the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles, Lucinda Babers, about new driver's licenses that have to comply with the REAL ID Act. I expect a lot of you have questions, better ask them now, 800-433-8850, or shoot us an email to How often do you use your driver's license to get into a federal building or onto an airplane? That's what significant here. So call us, 800-433-8850. How soon will I need a REAL ID compliant driver's license if I wanted to use it as identification at the airport?

  • 13:11:13

    BABERSYou do not need to do anything until it's time to renew. So take me, for example, my current credential expires Dec. 2020 and so, regardless, when the federal government decides that I'm going to need a REAL ID credential to board a plane, I can continue to use my Dec. 2020 existing driver's license to board that plane.

  • 13:11:37

    NNAMDIHow come you got one that goes till 2020? Mine only goes till 2017, what'd you do?

  • 13:11:42

    BABERSWell, no, apparently...

  • 13:11:43

    NNAMDIDoes the director get a longer period to renew her license then everybody else?

  • 13:11:46

    BABERSNo. Well, remember now, we went about, how long has it been, about five years ago, we went from a five-year credential to an eight-year credential.

  • 13:11:55

    NNAMDIThis is true. And that's how I got to be in 2017 and you got to be in 2020. What kind of facilities are going to start requiring the REAL ID to let people in?

  • 13:12:05

    BABERSWell, according to the Department of Homeland Security, on Jan. 19, 2015, there are going to be certain federal buildings, not all of them, it's up to the federal agencies to decide if a REAL ID compliant credential is necessary. But I do want to repeat, once again, even on Jan. 19, 2015, DC residents can continue to use their existing credential.

  • 13:12:31

    NNAMDIIn other words, in 2017 or 2018, you will still be able to get into a federal building using that license that you have that expires in 2020?

  • 13:12:41

    BABERSAbsolutely. And that's because DC -- we will be considered REAL ID compliant. So any jurisdiction that either has an extension from the Department of Homeland Security or is REAL ID compliant, they don't need to worry about those dates for entering federal buildings or boarding airplanes.

  • 13:12:58

    NNAMDIOne thing that makes the new driver's license more secure is that people have to bring more documentation when they come to the DMV to get it. What, can you repeat, should we bring as proof of identity, DC residency and social security number to get the new license?

  • 13:13:15

    BABERSWell, there are several different documents in each of those categories and I'll just mention a few but I encourage...

  • 13:13:21


  • 13:13:22

    BABERS...residents to go to our website at But, for instance, for the proof of identity, you can show us a passport, a birth certificate or if you're converting from a state such as Maryland and you already have the Maryland REAL ID credential, you can use that for your identity.

  • 13:13:42

    NNAMDIWe have a question from Anna in Washington, DC. Anna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:13:48

    ANNAGood morning, Kojo, thanks for taking my call. I'm in a unique situation. I moved to DC about a year ago with a permit, not a license, but with a permit from New York. And I kind of going around everywhere, like Many Millennials and public transportation, taking the Metro and the bus. So my permit will expire in August and I'm wondering, since I don't have a license -- I can't even afford a car at the moment, I'm actually unemployed and I won't be getting a license soon. What do you suggest because from what I know, I've heard that there's also, kind of, a state ID that I can get. Thank you.

  • 13:14:23

    NNAMDII have no idea but maybe Lucinda Babers has.

  • 13:14:26

    BABERSHi, Anna, thank you for your question. Yes, if you can come to DC DMV and you can get an identification card. And the identification card is exactly the same as our driver's license, you simply do not have to take the knowledge test or the road test or show proof to drive. But you will have to bring in those documents, your proof of identity which is your full name and date of birth, your proof of social security number and then two proofs of DC residence.

  • 13:14:54

    NNAMDIWhere can you get your proof of social security number if you don't actually have your card?

  • 13:14:58

    BABERSIf you don't have your card, you can use a W2, you can use a pay statement or you can even use a 1099.

  • 13:15:06

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We move on now to Mary Katherine in College Park, Md. Mary Katherine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:15:16

    MARY KATHERINEHi, Kojo, thank you for taking my call.

  • 13:15:18

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:15:19

    KATHERINEI had an experience a couple of years ago and I'm hoping that these driver's licenses will be better. I was traveling from San Francisco back to DC and lost my driver's license before I got to the airport. I frantically called my husband and said, please photocopy, email me a copy of my -- on my phone, a copy of my passport, thinking I would use that as an alternate ID to get on the plane. And they wouldn't accept that because it wasn't "notarized" and they were trying to problem solve with me and what they accepted to let me get on the plane was my Costco card.

  • 13:15:59

    NNAMDIThey accepted your Costco card to let you on the plane?

  • 13:16:03


  • 13:16:03

    NNAMDIOh, it had -- did it have a photo on it?

  • 13:16:06

    KATHERINEWell, it has a terrible photo on it. If you've ever seen them, they look like a blurry, whatever, I don't know...

  • 13:16:11

    NNAMDII've seen them. I have one, yes.

  • 13:16:14

    KATHERINEYeah, they're terrible, but that's what got me on the plane. Most of -- not a copy -- not a copy of my passport on my phone.

  • 13:16:21

    NNAMDII don't think, in the future, that will enable you to get to get on the plane. I don't think the Costco card will work in the future.

  • 13:16:27

    KATHERINEThat's why I was appalled. I was, like, you know, you guys -- so we should just let all the terrorists know in the world that all they need is a Costco card...

  • 13:16:34


  • 13:16:34 get on a plane.

  • 13:16:36

    NNAMDII don't think that'll happen. But if you're question for Lucinda Babers is, how will you make the driver's license ID more secure? I'd be interested in hearing the answer to that.

  • 13:16:48

    BABERSYes, thank you for your call. We, unfortunately, do not control what TSA will or will not accept to get on an airplane. I would encourage you to go to their website, they do have a list of alternate documents that they do accept. But on Nov. 26 of last year, we rolled out a more secure credential. And so, for those people who happen to have the new credential, it has cherry blossoms in the background. And it has so many new features, such as, it has two pictures on it, it has a micro-printing. It has a lot of security features that allow us to also be compliant with the new federal standards.

  • 13:17:27

    NNAMDICan I simply tell by looking at my driver's license whether it's one that complies with the REAL ID Act?

  • 13:17:32

    BABERSWell, a driver's license that is REAL ID compliant will, starting tomorrow, whether it's a driver's license or an ID card, it will have a star in the upper right-hand corner.

  • 13:17:42

    NNAMDIA little black star?

  • 13:17:44

    BABERSA little black star.

  • 13:17:45

    NNAMDIIn the upper right-hand corner, that will tell you whether or not it is compliant with the REAL ID Act. We move on now to Priscilla in Woodstock, Md. Priscilla, you're turn.

  • 13:17:58

    PRISCILLAHi, Kojo. I wanted your listeners to -- they would benefit having a U.S. Passport card and...

  • 13:18:08

    NNAMDIYou're -- Priscilla, you're -- we're not hearing you very clearly. Allow me to put you on hold, see if we can get better reception and I'll come back to you in a very short while. Here is Ashley in Washington, D.C., in the meantime. Ashley, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:18:24

    ASHLEYGood afternoon, Kojo. I just moved to Washington, DC, a couple of months ago and I still haven't changed my license plate and driver's license yet. I was planning on going in tomorrow and I heard this on the radio. I was wondering if there's going to be any issues regarding me, you know, switching over because I am from Maryland and I've never switched my license over after renewing it.

  • 13:18:51

    NNAMDIHere's Lucinda Babers.

  • 13:18:52

    BABERSYes, Ashley, thank you. As long as you go to our website, and make sure that you have one of the credentials from proof of identity, one from social security number and two proof of residencies from -- as the residence that document, you will be fine. But you do need to make sure you have those source documents that's indicated on our website.

  • 13:19:17

    NNAMDIWhat can be two proofs of residency?

  • 13:19:20

    BABERSYou can have a utility bill and you can have a lease or a mortgage. So those could be two.

  • 13:19:25

    NNAMDIThat works for you, Ashley?

  • 13:19:25

    ASHLEYOkay, thank you guys. Yes. It works perfectly fine.

  • 13:19:29

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Why can't I apply for the new REAL ID license online?

  • 13:19:36

    BABERSThat's because we need to actually see those source documents, in person, and validate them. And as the previous caller indicated, you -- we don't actually accept copies of passports, birth certificates, they must be original documents so that we can validate them.

  • 13:19:52

    NNAMDIOkay, Ashley, thank you very much for your call. In November, the DC Council voted to establish a special type of driver's license for undocumented individuals. You're going to start issuing those licenses tomorrow as well. What will they look like and who is eligible to get one?

  • 13:20:10

    BABERSFirst of all, our limited purpose driver's license and ID cards will look exactly like our existing credentials except for they will have on them the words, not for official federal purposes. And that is a federal requirement that we mark those credentials such. The requirements for getting those are a little different. The individuals will have to show proof of identity. They'll have to show proof of D.C. residence. They'll also have to show proof that they were a resident six months prior to when they come to the DMV to apply. So there is a six-month requirement.

  • 13:20:45

    BABERSAnd then those individuals are individuals who are not eligible to receive a social security number. They've never been issued one in their lives or maybe they were issued a social security number. But if they try to go now they wouldn't be eligible.

  • 13:21:02

    NNAMDIOn therefore to Kate in Washington, D.C. Kate, your turn.

  • 13:21:07

    KATEHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I was wondering, the director mentioned several documents that we have only in electronics form. So our W2 for example and our utility bill. Will the DMV accept printouts of these documents?

  • 13:21:21

    BABERSKate, thank you. Yes, absolutely. We recognize that a lot of people are getting documents now online. They're banking online. They're getting utility bills online. So we will accept printouts of those documents you receive online.

  • 13:21:35

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Kate. As regards to the license for undocumented individuals, how can they be used? The license that you're starting to give out tomorrow for undocumented individuals, how can those licenses be used?

  • 13:21:51

    BABERSThe primary purpose for the driver's license for the undocumented individuals is to allow them to be able to drive knowing that they've taken the knowledge test and that they've taken the road test and are therefore safe on the roadways. And if they have a vehicle we want to make sure that vehicle gets registered and has insurance. Now we will not be able to determine whether a bank or anybody else will accept that document for identification. It's strictly up to individual organizations.

  • 13:22:20

    NNAMDIBut at the very least you'll be able to drive. Let's try Priscilla again in Woodstock, Md. Priscilla, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:22:30


  • 13:22:31

    NNAMDIHi Priscilla. Your phone still sounds terrible but try to see if we can understand you. Oh, I think Priscilla dropped off completely this time. We got an email from Allison who writes, "So if I log on today before midnight to get a duplicate of my lost license, will that still work?"

  • 13:22:50

    BABERSWell, actually the online services will go down, I believe it's at 6:00 pm today. So it's going to go down before midnight because we will have to go ahead and process everybody who's applied today because they will get the existing credential.

  • 13:23:08

    NNAMDISo that means, Allison, you have maybe four hours, four-and-a-half at best. We got an email from Cynthia in Washington, D.C. who writes, "My son now has a learner's permit and will soon take the test for a license. He lives with me so he has no utility bill. What will he need in order to obtain his new ID?"

  • 13:23:27

    BABERSYeah, Cynthia, we actually have what's called a proof of residency form that is used by individuals who live with other people. And so there are no utility bills, there's no lease or there's no mortgage in that perhaps minor's name. And so you can fill out that proof of residency form. And then you will have to provide your documents in your name, your utility bill, your lease, your mortgage.

  • 13:23:52

    NNAMDIOkay. Last question, same as the first question, what's the bottom line here for D.C. residents? What do you want people to know?

  • 13:24:01

    BABERSThe bottom line, Kojo, is that if you have an existing D.C. credential, a driver's license or ID card, you do not need to visit us until it's time for renewal. Even if your renewal date is five years in the future, you can still use that credential to board airplanes and enter federal buildings. However, if you need to come to DMV starting tomorrow because you need to renew, you need to get a duplicate, you need to convert. There are additional document requirements so we encourage you to go online.

  • 13:24:35

    NNAMDILucinda Babers. She is director of the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles. Thank you for joining us.

  • 13:24:41

    BABERSThank you for having me.

  • 13:24:42

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, how the Ethiopian government has cracked down arresting journalist students. And among those arrested, two bloggers that you may have heard on this broadcast when we visited Ethiopia earlier this year. That's what we'll be talking about when we come back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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