Real ID in Maine: Yes or No?

Yesterday I trekked out to brave the unique circle of hell that is the DMV. Actually, the experience was more just an exercise in tedium than anything really unpleasant. In Maine, there are some central offices for the DMV that you can go to anytime, but for the rural areas, there are pop up offices. In my town, that means twice a month, you can go to a place right in town and get your license renewed. The only problem? Everyone prefers to do that instead of driving 45 minutes away, so it’s typically a bit crowded.

It took about an hour and a half for me, all told. Which meant I arrived, signed in, and then read a book while they churned through all the names in front of me. There are definitely worse ways to spend your time, though there are better as well. Thankfully the two people they had staffing the office were both efficient and even tempered. That’s always a plus.

This year, I had a new option. For years Maine has resisted the new drivers license requirements the rest of the nation has adopted, which means that starting in October of next year, Maine licenses won’t be any good to get on airplanes. Not unless you pay for the upgraded “Real ID compliant” option. And judging from yesterday, they really want to be sure you know you don’t need a Real ID compliant license.

To get one, you need to bring some extra identification when you renew, and you have to specifically request a Real ID compliant license. The default is non-compliant. I had my passport, current license, a utility bill, and a w-2 form that had my Social Security Number on it. That was enough to jump through all the hoops. But even then, the guy asked me repeatedly if I was sure I wanted a Real ID license.

“It costs extra,” he said.

“It’s just about $20 more,” I said. “I’m fine with that.”

“You already have a passport. You can just use that to get on planes.”

I stared at him, surprised he was this committed to down-selling me on the Real ID. “I know. But I’d rather have the convenience of having a drivers license that works for airports here.”

“It won’t get you into Canada.”

“Come again?” I asked.

“The Real ID doesn’t replace your passport. You’ll still need it to go to Canada or any other country.”

And water is wet. “Yes,” I said. “I’m aware of that.”

Do you need a Real ID? No. Not if you have a passport and are willing to take it with you whenever you travel by plane. For me, I’d rather spend $20 to not have to worry about where my passport is all the time. A license stays in my wallet, and I’m used to keeping track of that. Passports are bigger and more unwieldy. I fly often enough that I don’t feel like needing to track one more thing when I do.

But that’s just me. Maybe the vast majority of Mainers are just more frugal or better able to keep track of documents than I am. They’re definitely more hellbent on defying government identification laws. The Real ID Act was passed back in 2005, for crying out loud. We’re one of the last five states to finally come around.

Go Maine?


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