NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Like most everything else in the age of Covid, that already-dreaded trip to the local DMV office for a driver license renewal has gotten more complicated and is taking much longer. In-person renewals currently require an appointment and almost all slots are filled — until March.
But before fretting too much, be sure the renewal or other business with the DMV requires an in-person visit — much of it can be done online, depending on individual circumstances.
Steve Abbott, a spokesman with the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, urged people to try online services first (except Sundays, 4 a.m. – noon, when scheduled maintenance takes place), even if they are used to going to an office for DMV services.
“There are some exceptions in terms of the type of license or other issues, but a lot of customers can renew their license online every other renewal time, or they can order a duplicate license, if they need to update their address or have lost a license or it was stolen,” Abbott said Friday.
Services at DMV offices have been affected by social-distancing and other Covid-19-related safety measures. In addition to those slowdowns, some offices have had to close because of internal Covid-19 infections.
“Like everywhere else these days, there are more positive tests, including for DMV staff,” Abbott said. “(Some) offices were shut down by a positive test in the past two days, joining other offices that were already closed.”
Abbott said at least a dozen offices across the state were closed last spring and have not been able to reopen due to staffing — employees who had contracted Covid-19 or were exposed to the highly contagious novel coronavirus.
“When there is a positive test, an office is immediately canceled and all appointments canceled,” Abbott said. “Staff goes into quarantine and would get tested, and the office is cleaned. Once we get the OK from the local health department, an office can re-open again, but usually that is about a week.”
The Burgaw office reopened Jan. 11, taking some pressure off Wilmington locations.
For now, however, if individual circumstances require an in-person visit to the DMV, it likely will be two months before an appointment is available.
But here’s a tip: The DMV is a state agency, so individuals can visit any office in any county.
“Customers may need to look at offices that may be a bit out of their local area,” Abbott said, “such as Wilmington customers taking advantage of the now-open Burgaw office.”
Beyond driver license renewals, people also should be aware of the Real ID requirement going into effect Oct. 1. Signed by Congress in 2005 as part of the The REAL ID Act, it was brought forth by the 9/11 Commission and is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security. The act has been phased in over the last 16 years and allows the federal government to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”
The Real ID will affect anyone who travels on a commercial airline, needs access to certain restricted federal government facilities and also nuclear plants. Stamped with a gold star in the top right corner, the license will be required unless travelers have a passport, a military ID or other approved identification.
“It can only be done at an office as a license or state ID enhancement,” Abbott said. “Because of Covid, Real ID documents are not needed for anything until Oct. 1, so there are eight-plus months to get one.”
Visit the DMV’s website to learn more about what’s needed to obtain a Real ID.