Regular ID and Real ID

South Carolina drivers can now get a federally approved Real ID license (on the right), which has a gold emblem in the corner. File/Staff

Anyone who still needs a Real ID — and that’s about 2.6 million of you — is probably starting to get a little worried.

For more than a year, the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles has been urging folks to upgrade their driver’s license or state-issued identification card to meet federal standards before the Oct. 1, 2020 deadline.

Which sounds ominous. People hear “deadline,” or “DMV,” and begin to resemble that deer-in-headlights photo on their license.

But don’t fret. The DMV is doing a good job with Real ID, processing about 62,000 per month. And you still have almost nine months until the federal deadline.

Of course, people are concerned about long lines and the consequences of noncompliance. So here’s a convenient Q&A with tips, life hacks and little-known facts about the Real ID.

What is a “Real ID?”

The Department of Homeland Security, following federal law, has required all states to upgrade their driver’s licenses and ID cards so they are less easily counterfeited … and to make sure you actually are who you say you are.

And not, for instance, the shoe bomber.

What if I don’t get my Real ID by the deadline?

No worries, no one’s going to jail. Any unexpired license can still be used to drive and buy beer. You know, important stuff.

But you will not be able to fly anywhere on a commercial airplane after Oct. 1, and won't be admitted to federal buildings or onto military bases, unless you have a Real ID, military ID or a current passport.

If I don't have a Real ID, does that mean I can get out of federal jury duty?

No. Lack of a Real ID is no excuse to shirk your civic duty. The court will make sure you’re admitted.

OK, so where do I get a Real ID?

Real IDs are available at any branch of the DMV. You need proof of identity, such as a passport or birth certificate; proof of your Social Security number; two documents, like utility bills, showing your current address; a marriage license, if your name has changed, and $25.

The good news is the DMV has opened its largest branch in the state on Orleans Road in West Ashley (in the plaza with Bed, Bath & Beyond). It’s highly recommended.

I live downtown, so I’ll just go to the Lockwood Boulevard DMV.

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Better hurry, the DMV office on Lockwood will be shuttered after Feb. 14. Its lease was not renewed.

Ugh. Anywhere else?

For your convenience, the DMV is sending out mobile branches across the state to help people get their Real ID. They will be in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties the week of Jan. 27-31, locations to be announced online at scdmvonline.com/news.

How long does it take to get a Real ID?

State DMV chief Kevin Shwedo once warned waits could stretch from six hours to all day the closer we get to the deadline (watch for all the news stories come September).

Here’s a tip: Show up at the new branch on Orleans Road just before it opens at 8:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m. on Wednesdays. Some people have gotten in and out in less than 30 minutes.

As DMV spokesperson Lauren Phillips notes, the Orleans Road branch has more counters than the former West Ashley and Lockwood Drive branches combined. And they're quite efficient.

So, why the big hurry for everyone to get a Real ID?

Uh, actually Congress passed the law mandating new identification cards in 2005 — 15 years ago. Most states already have them, but South Carolina refused to participate until 2017, when the feds stopped letting this slide. Since then, the DMV has had to work overtime to get us in compliance.

Why in the world did South Carolina fight a law designed to thwart terrorism?

Well, part of it was the cost: an estimated $16 million to start, and $10 million in recurring funds.

But the real reason is some Statehouse leaders were pandering to anti-government types who, as my colleague Cindi Ross Scoppe once reported, had visions of black helicopters dancing in their heads.

Yes, they thought this might be a United Nations plot to collect information about us for an eventual New World Order.

Really.

So, if I don’t get a Real ID, and can no longer legally fly, does that mean the U.N. won’t be able to kidnap me on a black helicopter?

Don’t count on it.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.