Editorial: Plan ahead for Real ID

Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services had bad news and good news for customers stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

The bad news was that DMV’s initial effort to reopen its field offices after a 10-week shutdown hit a roadblock — and not the physical kind.

The good news is that DMV was able to get around it quickly — and that more than 3.1 million Oregon drivers will have up to 15 months, instead of three, to obtain the kind of licenses enabling them to board commercial aircraft.

Assistant Director Travis Brouwer of the Oregon Department of Transportation, DMV’s parent agency, spoke about both this week at a virtual meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.

In the first hour after telephone lines were opened June 1, DMV got 18,000 calls — the normal call volume is 1,000 per day — and DMV shut down the lines soon afterward.

“We were faced with a deluge of calls we did not anticipate,” Brouwer said.

But with help from its computer systems vendor, DMV put up a substitute: An online form for people to request in-person appointments, with specific times, at their local field office.

Of the 60 field offices, 38 were able to reopen June 3 to provide limited services. All but six were closed since March 25, after the first of Gov. Kate Brown’s executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic — and those six were limited to commercial driver licenses.

In a second phase, 57 field offices will reopen by Monday, June 22, for limited services. All 60 offices will reopen by Aug. 3 with all services.

Many DMV services can be done online or via mail. A new computer system will enable DMV to expand that list.

But renewals of regular drivers’ licenses require people to come in for new photos and, for those 60 and older, vision tests.

Vehicle registrations can be renewed online or by mail. But for people in the Portland metro area or Jackson County, their vehicles must undergo inspections by the Department of Environmental Quality at stations now scheduled to reopen June 15 and 16.

Drive tests for first-time license applicants and others also require in-person appointments. The tests usually are conducted by DMV vendors, but Brouwer said vendors are unavailable in some areas of Oregon.

The pandemic did have one unanticipated effect.

Oregon faced a deadline of Oct. 1 for licenses compliant with the Real ID Act, a 2005 federal law whose goal is to make state drivers’ licenses more secure. Some of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the East Coast used drivers’ licenses to board commercial aircraft.

Oregon DMV will proceed with its plan to start issuing compliant licenses on July 1.

But Oregon’s deadline for compliance with the federal law is now Oct. 1, 2021. ODOT’s Brouwer said the delay will give DMV 15 months, instead of three months, and many drivers now can opt to obtain the new licenses when their renewal time comes.

“As a result, it will significantly reduce that surge of customers we were predicting in the field offices,” he said.

The compliant licenses will be required when state licenses are used for federal purposes, such as boarding commercial aircraft or entering federal buildings.

Oregon will begin issuing noncompliant licenses starting Jan. 1, when House Bill 2015 takes effect. That law does away with the requirement that drivers show proof of legal presence in the United States to obtain a state drivers’ license, although drivers must pass the other tests. These licenses cannot be used for federal purposes and must be marked to that effect.

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