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Your deadline is 2020, but now's the time to upgrade your driver's license

Pull out your driver’s license. Take a good look at it.

If you don’t see a black-circled star or a picture of an American flag, your license won’t allow you to board any commercial flight or even enter certain federal buildings as of October 2020.

But you might not want to wait long to act, given the tougher standards required for an upgraded ID and in case you've misplaced your birth, marriage or Social Security documents. Besides, your license might expire before the October 2020 deadline.

“If you ask me, what’s the one thing you’ve learned as clerk? It’s that people are not prepared,” said Erie County Clerk Michael “Mickey” Kearns. “This is a complicated transaction.”

More than 200,000 Erie County driver's licenses will expire before the October 2020 deadline, a higher-than-average number. Add to that the crush of people who will wait until the last minute to upgrade their ID for a trip to Disney World or to see an ailing aunt in Charlotte.

Finally, many will grapple with the dizzying array of travel ID options and the official, original documents that must be gathered for each type of application, administered by different state and federal agencies. That includes REAL ID, an "enhanced" license and other "trusted traveler" programs.

If you already have a valid passport or enhanced ID, you're ahead of the game. But for other local travelers, and even passport holders, now is the time to evaluate your future travel needs.

For all those reasons, the Erie County Clerk's Office, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and the Transportation Security Administration have teamed up to launch a 500-day awareness campaign. The NFTA has hung banners at the airport and will raise awareness through website and social media campaigns.

Three main types of NY drivers licenses. (Courtesy of the NY DMV)

Kearns, meanwhile, said the Clerk's Office plans 250 visits to libraries, government buildings, private companies and senior centers among other locations to raise awareness of the coming change. The Clerk's Office has also hired more personnel, established an online reservation service and opened Saturday hours at two auto bureau locations to help deal with the increased demand for services.

Here's a Q&A on what you need to know.

Q: Why is this change happening?

A: After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed the REAL ID Act to establish minimum security standards for state-issued IDs and driver's licenses. The provisions of this act have been phased in over time but will be fully enforced beginning Oct. 1, 2020.

Q: What does that mean for me?

A: If you only hold a standard driver's license, you will need to have a REAL ID or other higher form of identification, such as an enhanced license or passport, to fly domestically and to enter secure federal buildings and military bases.

A REAL ID or enhanced license requires an in-person visit to a local Department of Motor Vehicles Office. The application process can be cumbersome, so it's important to have all required documents in advance. The county's auto bureaus allow customers to reserve a time online to minimize or eliminate the wait for service.

Residents enrolled in other travel programs, including TSA Precheck, NEXUS, Global Entry and SENTRI, do not need a REAL ID. Each of these programs has different eligibility and application requirements, costs and travel benefits. Required proofs of identity can vary for each type of program. For those who have considered signing up for TSA Precheck or NEXUS in the past, now is the time to give that serious consideration.

Q: Do these ID requirements apply to children?

A: No, the TSA does not require ID for children under the age of 18.

Q: Will a standard driver's license still be an option?

A: Yes. You can apply for a standard driver's license, which is still a valid form of ID, but it will cost the same as a REAL ID. A standard ID may be the only option for some if the State Legislature passes a law allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses.

Q: What will this cost?

A: If your license is up for renewal, the cost for either a standard license or REAL ID is $64.50. If your license is not up for renewal but you need to make the changeover midcycle, you will be charged $12.50. The $12.50 fee applies to any midcycle change to your license.

Q: I fly domestically and want a REAL ID. What do I need to apply?

A: If you already have a valid New York driver's license with a current address and it is not yet up for renewal, the least documentation that most adults will need in order to obtain a REAL ID, aside from your current license, is one proof of your Social Security number, such as a Social Security card or W-2 form, and one more proof of your state residency.

There are roughly 30 types of residency proofs, but the most common would include a bank statement or utility bill with your current address. If your driver's license is up for renewal, then you cannot use your driver's license as a proof of residence.

In all cases, you will also will need to supply one additional form of ID, such as a passport, birth certificate, naturalization certificate, permanent resident or employment authorization certificate.

And if you changed your name, such as after marriage, divorce or remarriage, you're in for more headaches. You will have to produce a marriage certificate, divorce decree or other court document showing each change of name.

The New York DMV has an interactive document guide online to help you figure out what documents you need to change over your driver's license.

Q: What's the difference between a REAL ID and an enhanced driver's license?

A: One difference is cost. If you are renewing your license, an enhanced license is $30 more than a standard or REAL ID. An enhanced license permits travel by land or sea to and from Canada, Mexico and certain Caribbean countries. Only U.S. citizens can apply for an enhanced license. But the proofs required to apply for either a REAL ID or an enhanced license are otherwise the same.

Push for driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants intensifies at Capitol

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