Check your driver’s license. Next year, it might not be able to get you on a plane

Does your driver’s license have a star against a gold background in the upper right corner?

If not, you may want to go to a Texas Department of Public Safety office and get a new one.

Starting next year, if you don’t have the gold star you won’t be able to use the license as identification to get on a commercial airplane. Also, you could be denied access to some federal buildings.

The new rules regarding identification, which are part of the federal Real ID Act, will be effective Oct. 1, 2020.

The rule applies to all 50 states. While Texas chose to use a star against a gold background as its Real ID symbol, other states may use different colors or symbols.

Why now?

So why should you make a fuss about a cryptic marking on a government-issued ID and why are you just now hearing about this?

The issue goes all the way back to 9-11. After the terrorist attacks in 2001, the federal government determined that states needed to do a better job vetting residents before handing out official identification cards, including driver’s licenses.

The debate about how to make these improvements took years. In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID act, which among other things directed the Homeland Security Department to set identification standards for states to follow.

Although the Real ID Act passed in 2005, the law allowed the new requirements to be spread over many years, with the driver’s license requirement going into effect Oct. 1, 2020.

The Texas Department of Public Safety began issuing the new driver’s licenses featuring the star on a gold background in 2016, so if you have obtained or renewed a license since then you will probably notice that the gold star is already there. But check your license for the gold star before heading to the airport.

Other forms of ID

There are other forms of ID that will work in place of a driver’s license. A passport always works at federal checkpoints (as long as it’s valid, and not expired).

Also, federal officials will accept many other forms of ID, including border crossing cards, DHS trusted traveler cards and even U.S. Merchant Mariner Credentials. A complete list of acceptable IDs is on the Homeland Security website.

Travelers under 18 years old aren’t required to show ID at federal checkpoints.

For those who arrive at the airport and realize they have either lost or forgot their ID, the Transportation Security Administration has a process for verifying your identity through an in-person interview. But the process isn’t recommended, as it likely will cause a significant delay in your travel, and you likely will have to undergo a body search (TSA calls it a “pat-down”) and additional security screening.

Getting the word out

Federal officials say they realize that many Americans probably don’t know about the Real ID Act, and in the coming months they will make more of an effort to publicize the new requirements.

“DHS has worked closely with state and local officials as the 2020 deadline approaches to make sure the public is aware,” the the Homeland Security Department said in a statement.

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.