The warning from Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration of a June deadline to provide documents — or risk having a driver’s license recalled and confiscated — came as a shock to many drivers.
What angered some was MVA’s suggestion that drivers were warned repeatedly about the deadline, but had done nothing about it.
Last Thursday, the administration said that more than 66,000 Maryland drivers could have their licenses confiscated if they don’t quickly provide documentation to make them compliant with the federally-mandated REAL ID process.
Those drivers are in possession of the newly designed licenses, which include a REAL ID star near the upper-right corner. But they haven’t brought required documents to MVA for scanning to complete the process.
MVA provided a REAL ID look up tool, in which residents would enter their driver’s license or ID card number and be advised of their REAL ID status.
Included in last week’s report: “According to the agency, affected drivers have received three notices by email since December that warn of the June 2019 deadline.”
Untrue, said several WTOP listeners who used the look up tool and were surprised to learn their licenses were not fully compliant.
“Despite living at the same address for 18 years, and having the same email address on file for about half that time — through which I’ve received other MVA communications with no problem — I have received absolutely ZERO communication from the MVA about my license not being compliant, despite their claims three notices have been sent out,” one driver told WTOP.
Several other drivers contacted WTOP to say they had never received any email from MVA alerting them to provide more documents.
“We do realize there might be some confusion,” MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer told WTOP.
“What’s been happening is customers have been going to that look up tool, and it’s telling them they need documents, but it’s not giving them a specific date, and they’re assuming they’re part of the June group — that is not accurate,” Nizer said.
Maryland began issuing REAL ID licenses in 2009, under a process the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deemed compliant. However, in October 2017, DHS informed Maryland that all drivers with the REAL ID star must have scanned documents on file with MVA.
And that’s where the confusion began. And, hopefully ends.
“There’s a total of 1 million customers who fall into this category” — people provided with REAL ID licenses from Maryland’s MVA but without scanned documents on file — said Nizer.
Those facing the June deadline received the following three-sentence message in the look up tool answer box:
“You are required to present documents in order to meet federal REAL ID Act requirements. Please bring your documents to a MDOT MVA branch office by MM/DD/YYYY. Failure to respond may result in action against your Maryland Driver’s License or ID card.”
However, only about 80,000 drivers whose licenses needed to be renewed by June were sent previous emails. The remaining 920,000 who still need to bring in documents to be scanned have yet to be notified by mail.
And, for those who have to provide documents at some still-to-be-specified deadline, their message in the look up tool consisted of the first and third sentence only, with no deadline mentioned in the second sentence.
“We’re going to add some clarifying language to our REAL ID lookup tool, based on the feedback of customers,” Nizer said.
Nizer added that the tweaked language will say: “If your REAL ID look up answers indicates you should bring documents in, but doesn’t indicate a specific month, date or year in the answer box, then you have not gotten any correspondence from us, but you will be contacted going forward.”
By late Monday afternoon, the updated REAL ID look up language was adjusted, according to an agency spokesperson, with the goal of providing notification that something needs to be done, but not immediately.
“That way, customers are clear, ‘OK, I don’t have a date in there, so they’re going to reach out to me, but haven’t done so yet,'” Nizer said.
“We’re trying to make it as simple as possible,” Nizer said of the administration’s efforts to eliminate the confusion.
To compound matters, the REAL ID look up link that MVA provided to news outlets — including WTOP — was a “Not Secure” link, which several concerned listeners pointed out.
Asked why MVA provided an unsecured link, a spokesperson said it was a vanity address to make it easier for readers to remember.
Ken Colburn, of Data Doctors, said the security risk to people who entered their driver’s license number in the unsecured link is low, since entering the number did not prompt users to enter more private information.
“From a public relations standpoint, it doesn’t help,” Colburn said. “It should have been a no-brainer to make sure they shared the secure link.”
With staggered deadlines due to different renewal dates, as well as other variables, Nizer said that once a driver is aware that documents eventually will be needed, they should make an appointment now to bring them to MVA for scanning.
“With an appointment, we guarantee to see you within 15 minutes,” Nizer said.
Editor’s note: The original REAL ID Look Up Tool link provided by MVA was not a secure link. This story has been updated to include a secure link.