Metro

What you need to know about changes to Mass. driving licenses

DAVID L RYAN/GLOBE STAFF/FILE
The Watertown RMV in 2010.

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If you need to get your car inspected or renew your driver’s license soon, you might want to plan around this coming weekend, when the Registry of Motor Vehicles goes dark for three days to prepare for new driver’s license rules.

And when the RMV comes back on line, Massachusetts drivers will see big changes—including waiting in line if they want a new type of licenses instead of renewing online.

Nearly all RMV services — including renewals, road tests and vehicle inspections — will be down Thursday night through Monday morning; branch offices will be closed, and online and phone services won’t be available to drivers either. The huge shutdown is necessary to install software that can, among other tasks, issue new types of “Real ID” driver’s licenses required by federal law as a security safeguard in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (Law enforcement will still be able to access RMV information this weekend.)

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Drivers seeking to renew or get a new driver’s license will need to bring several documents to the RMV, one that shows their Social Security number, another proving US citizenship such as a passport, or that shows lawful presence in the country, like an employment authorization card. Applicants will also need two documents proving Massachusetts residency, such as utility bills or bank statements.

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The new Real ID licenses will include a small mark in the upper right corner showing the license complies with federal rules, making it acceptable as a federal identification. Drivers wanting a Real ID license will have to renew in person, either at an RMV office or a branch of the AAA.

Drivers aren’t required to obtain a Real ID, but if they don’t, their license will no longer be a valid form of identification for boarding a flight within the US, or entering a federal building after October 2020. Instead, they would need to use a passport.

The state will also issue non-Real ID-compliant licenses that nonetheless will require drivers to show more documentation than previously, including proof of citizenship or lawful presence, and a single document showing proof of residency. These licenses can still be renewed online. Previously, only holders of US visas had been required to provide such documentation for license renewals.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the Registry is bracing for more traffic at its branch offices.

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“We’re assuming a significant number of our 5.3 million people [with an existing Mass ID] are going to want a Real ID,” she said.

The state is directing drivers to mass.gov/id to learn more about license renewal requirements.

To prepare for all of this, the RMV will be swapping software this coming weekend. Pollack said officials timed the closure to minimize interference with the end-of-the-month crush from drivers with expiring inspection stickers scrambling for a new one.

The new software will help with Real ID compliance, Pollack said; for example, the existing software could not always print long last names in full on every licenses, which the new system can as required by the federal government.

Replacing the dated software will also facilitate a number of new features, such as paying for multiple transactions at once, creating customer profiles, and allowing the RMV to communicate with drivers by email – functions that state officials admit are not exactly high-tech breakthroughs today.

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RMV registrar Erin Deveney said the change will be like “going from the very early stages of video games in Massachusetts to an Amazon Web Services shopping experience.”

But first, the RMV will need to get through the software installation. The change comes after several high-profile blunders of new computer systems by the state government, including problems last year with the RMV system used by repair shops and gas stations for vehicle inspections. The issues left many drivers and small businesses in the lurch for days.

Deveney said she’s confident the coming software swap will not face similar problems because the company awarded the contract for the $62 million job, Fast Enterprises of Colorado, has already installed similar Real ID systems in other states. Additionally, she said, employees have received extensive training ahead of the change.

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.