Get the Real ID driver’s license before deadline

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People who get their Real ID driver’s licenses now probably will be glad they did.

The extended deadline for obtaining this enhanced driver’s license that includes a federally approved ID is two years away.

But you don’t have to wait until 2020 to apply, and the DMV estimates that about 450,000 forward-looking North Carolinians already have gotten their Real IDs. That leaves as many as 4 million drivers in the state who have yet to apply. Imagine the lines at the DMV if all those people wait until the last minute.

No one is required to get a Real ID. A regular driver’s license will still enable people to drive legally and probably will be acceptable identification for writing checks, proving residency and other routine business.

But if there’s a possibility that you will need to deal with the federal government, you likely will want a Real ID.

Dealing with the federal government means getting through the security line to board an airplane.

It means entering a federal courthouse to take care of business.

It means going onto a military base, even visiting the grounds of one of the military academies.

In most cases, presenting your passport, birth certificate or another official document may be an acceptable substitute, but it’s going to make life easier to have the Real ID symbol on the driver’s license you usually carry.

Americans tend to be suspicious of government intrusion into our lives, but the Real ID is nothing to fear. Uncle Sam will not be monitoring your driving. It’s not a national ID card.

The state of North Carolina will issue driver’s licenses with a Real ID symbol, just as it issues our driver’s licenses now.

There will be no federal database drawn from driver’s license records. The state will still determine its rules for obtaining a driver’s license.

The Real ID, established by Congress in 2005, is one of many federal actions designed to make Americans safer in the post-9/11 world. It’s a response to worries that state driver’s licenses can too easily be faked, and that terrorists may use fraudulent IDs for identification.

To get the Real ID certification on their N.C. driver’s license, residents must appear in person at a DMV office with documents that prove their identity and address — a current passport or certified birth certificate; a Social Security card or tax form or pay stub showing the Social Security number; two documents establishing the N.C. address.

The DMV has a list of acceptable documents online at https://www.ncdot.gov/dmv/driver/realid/requireddocuments.html.

There’s no extra fee to get the Real ID. Renewing a license and adding the Real ID costs $5 a year.

Anyone getting a Real ID before needing to renew a license pays the regular $13 duplicate fee.

The license will look the same as a regular license except for a star symbol in a circle on the upper right corner. The DMV says applicants should get their Real IDs in the mail in 15 or 20 days, if they apply before the deadline.

When 2020 rolls around, lots of North Carolinians are going to realize they want a Real ID driver’s license. Acting ahead of time should avoid the crowds and allow time to deal with any problems in rounding up documentation.