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AARP Answers: Your Driver's License and Coronavirus

What to know if your license has expired, you need a Real ID and other DMV issues

California drivers license

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My driver's license is about to expire, but I cannot go in person to renew because I'm trying to avoid going out in public. What should I do?

Depending on where you live, you may already have been given an extension on your expired license.

Motor vehicle services, including the regulations and requirements for driver's license applicants, are managed on the state level, and each state is handling them differently during the coronavirus outbreak.

With many state Department of Motor Vehicles closed to in-person visits, a majority have loosened their rules. Most are offering extensions on recently expired or soon-to-expire driver's licenses and vehicle registrations.

Illinois residents whose licenses and vehicle registrations expire during the outbreak will be extended at least 90 days after Driver Services facilities reopen, according to the state's Driver Services Department.

Alaska DMV offices are seeing customers by appointment but encouraging drivers who need to renew during the outbreak to request a temporary license online (usually reserved for Alaskans renewing out of state)

Will I get a ticket if I'm stopped by police and have an expired license or registration?

It seems unlikely. Even if your state has not yet extended deadlines for recently expired (or soon-to-expire) vehicle documents, law enforcement officers are being asked to use their discretion when it comes to enforcing expiration dates.

For instance, California law enforcement officers are being told to “exercise discretion” for 60 days (starting March 16) in enforcing driver's license and vehicle registration expirations (though most of these renewals can be handled online). And Californians 70 and older with a driver’s license that expires between March 1 and May 31 will receive a 120-day extension — a paper license — in the mail during the outbreak. 

Michigan is asking the same of law enforcement while its DMV offices are closed and residents make efforts to avoid public areas.

Can I renew my license online?

Yes. Many states are encouraging citizens to go online to renew their licenses, and they make it fairly easy to do so. Among them are Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia, New Mexico and Massachusetts. Note that, according to federal regulations, it's not possible to get your Real ID without an in-person visit. (See more on that below.)

What if I'm over a certain age and my state has special renewal rules for older drivers?

Some states have special rules for older drivers (requiring in-person eye exams, for instance). But you are unlikely to be required to make an in-person visit during this coronavirus emergency, thanks to expiration extensions and other coronavirus-related allowances.

In Virginia, driver's licenses and identification cards set to expire between March 15 and May 15 have been extended 60 days from the original date of expiration — including for drivers 75 and older, who are typically required to make an in-person visit to renew.

Every eight years, age 50-plus residents in Oregon must pass a vision test administered at any driver's license office. But the state is asking law enforcement to use discretion in enforcing the law when someone presents recently expired documents. (Most of Oregon's 60 DMV field offices are closed.)

In Arizona, people 65 and older need in-person renewals and vision tests every five years. But the state is extending by six months the expiration date for all Arizona driver's licenses and driving permits that expire between March 1 and Sept. 1.

What about getting my required Real ID?

Federal officials are delaying the previously set Oct. 1, 2020, deadline for Real ID, one of the accepted forms of ID that travelers will need to use in place of a regular driver's license to get through airport security when enforcement begins. The new deadline is Oct. 1, 2021.

State lawmakers have lobbied to delay enforcement, because many drivers have yet to apply for their new cards and DMVs across the country are closing or offering limited services during the outbreak.

For a Real ID card, people need to apply in person and show documents that prove their age and identity, Social Security number and address. That generally means bringing a birth certificate or passport, a Social Security card or a tax form such as a W-2, and two proofs of address. Those who have changed their name through marriage may need to present a marriage certificate.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 26, 2020. It's been updated to reflect the new REAL ID deadline.

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