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Starts & Stops

Massachusetts drivers have another two years to get a Real ID

Citing the pandemic, the federal government again postponed the deadline for the new licenses, to May 2023.

A sample of a Massachusetts Real ID license, from the state RMV website.

The long-awaited federal deadline to get a new type of driver’s license or state identification that can be used to board domestic flights has been extended again, this time until May 2023.

The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday announced the 19-month extension from the most recent deadline of October 2021. At that point, so-called Real IDs, which are issued by states but adhere to federal guidelines to verify personal information, will become the only type of driver’s license accepted to board US flights.

The rule dates back to the post-9/11 period, but had already been pushed back from the prior October 2020 deadline, as officials last year cited the coronavirus pandemic.


Because Real IDs require more verification of a person’s identity, the first one must be obtained in person — in Massachusetts, at the Registry of Motor Vehicles or at AAA locations. And that appears to be the justification for the latest extension: In announcing it, DHS said the ”pandemic has significantly impacted states’ ability to issue REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards, with many driver’s licensing agencies still operating at limited capacity.”

Drivers and fliers are not required to obtain a Real ID. They’ll still be able to use a regular driver’s license to operate a motor vehicle, or a passport or other identification accepted by the Transportation Security Administration to board flights. But if you don’t want to carry a passport when flying within the country, it may be the easiest option.

States began issuing Real IDs several years ago — 2018, in Massachusetts, for example. At the time, the implementation triggered significant delays in service as a huge number of drivers flocked to RMV locations rather than renewing their licenses online. Under the latest change, some of those earliest Real ID adopters will have been through a full five-year renewal period before it is even required.


But, the licenses have become fairly standard in Massachusetts by now.

About 1.95 million Massachusetts IDs are Real IDs, about a third of all credentials in the state, according to the RMV. That trails the national figure, however: According to DHS, about “43 percent of all state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards are currently REAL ID-compliant.”