New driver's licenses make debut

South Carolina driver's licenses will change soon. File/Provided

South Carolinians can now start preparing to get new driver's licenses — the ones that will be required to board planes and enter military bases in the future.

After a long reluctance, the Palmetto State is complying with a federal law requiring driver's licenses that are harder to forge in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill into law last month requiring the new licenses after years of hesitation from lawmakers who did not want to be forced into following a federal mandate.

The state had to change the licenses used by 3.2 million drivers or risk requiring that South Carolinians present a passport to get through security screening at Charleston International Airport, attend soldier graduations at Fort Jackson or make deliveries to secure federal buildings, such as those at the Savannah River Site nuclear facility. 

New licenses are not required right away. South Carolina officials hope to get extensions that last through late 2020.

But some South Carolinians will want to get a jump on getting one of the new licenses issues using federal standards known as REAL ID.

Here is what the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles announced Monday about why the new licenses will be issued, how to apply and who needs to have a new license — which is not everyone.

What’s happening?

Starting May 15, South Carolinians can start applying for driver’s licenses that can be used to board flights and enter secure federal buildings and military bases. When the new licenses become available, you can order them online. This step is voluntary.

Why is South Carolina changing its driver’s licenses?

Congress passed a law in 2005 based on a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission to set security standards for driver’s licenses and other government-issued IDs across the country. The General Assembly passed a law this year for changing the licenses after the federal government extended the REAL ID deadline several times.

When will the new licenses be available?

Late 2017 or early 2018.

Are current licenses good now?

Yes, but the federal government has set an October deadline for needing federal government-compliant licenses to enter secure federal buildings and military bases, and a January deadline to have proper licenses to fly.

That seems like a short window. Has South Carolina asked for an extension?

Yes. The state should know later this week if the deadline involving secure federal buildings and military bases is extended and should know by October about an extension involving boarding flights. The state expects to get extensions that will last through October 2020, giving the South Carolinians time to get the new ones.

Do I really need one before 2020?

Not unless you fly or plan to enter secure federal buildings and military bases. You can still use your current license to drive, vote and receive government benefits.

What documents are needed in order to apply for a new license?

  • Birth certificate or unexpired U.S. passport
  • Social Security card, pay stub or W-2 form
  • At least two of the following: Current unexpired driver's license, utility bill, pay stub, mortgage statement, Social Security check or a bank statement. (For other eligible documents and more information, go to www.scdmvonline.com/DMVNew/forms/MV-93.doc)
  • If you changed your name: a marriage license, divorce decree or court order

Note: You must bring original copies of the documents.

You will need to visit a DMV office (location listings: scdmvonline.com/DMVNew/offloclist.aspx) with those documents if you received your first driver's license or beginner's permit before November 2010.

If you received your first S.C. driver’s license or beginner’s permit since November 2010, the state should have your documents on file. Call 803-896-5000 after May 15 to check.

I just paid to receive or renew my license in the past few years, and it expires after 2020. Do I have to pay again?

Yes. Most licenses cost $25 to renew for 10 years (though that price could change soon under the roads bill being considered in the Statehouse). The new licenses will be good for eight years. 

What if my license expires before South Carolina starts issuing the new licenses?

You will need to renew. You cannot drive with an expired license.

Can I keep my regular license past the 2020 deadline?

Sure. But it cannot be used to fly or enter secured federal buildings and military bases, though you can still use a passport or military ID for that. (For a full list, go to dhs.gov/real-id)

Will the new licenses look different?

The new licenses will have a gold star to identify them as meeting REAL ID standards. 

Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain is Columbia Bureau Chief for The Post and Courier. He was editor of Free Times and was a reporter and editor at The State, The Charlotte Observer and The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News.