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Florida Drivers Encountering Tougher Licensing Laws

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Tallahassee, FL – Since the first of the year, Florida and all other states have had to adopt tougher identification requirements for driver licenses. Tom Flanigan tells us that many Florida drivers still aren't aware of the changes and that's causing some problems at the offices that issue licenses.

The scene is a busy county tax collectors office somewhere in Florida...

"I've got a new drivers license your birth certificate or your passport, naturalization...I had all of these."

This woman is one of the 4-5 million Florida drivers whose driver licenses are up for renewal this year. That's nearly a third of the more than fifteen-and-a-half million licensed drivers in Florida. In past years, the process for getting a license renewed, or even getting a first-time license, was pretty simple, at least as far as proving your identity was concerned. But, as of the first of this year, Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles spokesperson Dave Westbury says there were big changes.

"The thing that changed on the national scene was really congress's passage of the Real I.D. Act. That was passed in 2005 and actually established a set of guidelines that states are now to follow in order to issue drivers licenses and I.D. cards."

Credit the need for greater security in a post-nine-eleven world. Westbury says, for all new and most renewing drivers, it will require an in-person trip to an office that issues driver licenses. In many places, that will be the county tax collectors office. The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles closed many of its driver license offices, especially in South Florida, earlier this year because of budget cuts. Wherever they go, Westbury says certain documents must come with them.

"The items now that our customers need to make sure they have with them (are) proof of identity as well as proof of their Social Security number as well as two proofs of their residential address. Those are the key factors they'll have to have with them. It's not just one piece, it's all of those documents combined."

Long lines at driver license offices have long been a standup comic staple. Westbury acknowledges the possible inconvenience, but says for most drivers, this will be a one-shot deal.

"People only have to bring those documents to us one time. It's not something they have to do each and every time they come into an office, unless something changes. If you change your address, if you change your name legally, then we will need to see you. Florida law requires you to come in and see us within ten days of doing something like that."

Also, the licenses are now good for eight years before they need renewed. And, if there have been no changen the driver's status or address, they can renew online or by mail. Of course, Westbury admits there are exceptions to every rule.

"Everybody's situation is a little bit different. Some were born here in the state of Florida, some were born outside the U.S. Some folks are foreign nationals who have come in via an immigrant status, some of them are on temporary status. Some folks have been married and changed their names multiple times, others have not."

To lift the veil of uncertainty, the department has set up a special web site: gathergoget.com.

"If you go to the web site, it'll give you a chance to put in your personal information; your date of birth, your driver's license number, your I.D. card, whatever you need to know. All the information about you personally, and it will help you identify the documents that you need to bring in the next time you come into an office."

Westbury says there's one very important side benefit for drivers or those getting an official Florida I-D card. A benefit that can actually fight identity theft and simplify other transactions that require personal identification.

"When you bring those documents to us and we put it in our secure database, it provides us with the basis to issue you a document that then you can use to present to bankers and real estate/financial folks, the retail community, that says you are who you say you are and they are much more readily accepted than the issues that come up when you present a document that has not been through that process."

So, remember, if your last driver license renewal took place before January first of this year, times and I-D requirements have changed. To find out exactly what you'll need to do and how you'll need to do it, go to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles special web site, gathergoget.com.