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Our Views: Price of security

New driver’s license rules just another way government overreacts to hidden threats

POSTED: July 8, 2012 1:00 a.m.

When it comes to government intrusion, many of us nowadays throw our hands up in the air and ask, “Now what?”

Now this: Getting your driver’s license renewed, already one of life’s little inconveniences, just got much more difficult.

Georgia has begun implementing new rules that requires a much stricter policy of identification before a driver can apply for a new license or renew an old one.

Those applying must show three forms of ID: an original birth certificate or passport, Social Security card, two proofs of residency and documents supporting any legal name changes.

Adding insult to inconvenience, the new rules were put into place before Department of Driver Services offices were able to boost staffing and training to make things flow smoothly.

The result was a mess. People waited for hours at the Gainesville office and other sites when the new rules took effect, with lines snaking outside the building into the sweltering heat.

Many did not have the required documents on hand, unaware of the change. They were issued 120-day temporary driving permits until they could get the right ID, meaning they have to go through the whole process again.

This did not just apply to new drivers, either, but also longtime residents who have been driving in Georgia for decades and just needed a renewal. If you still plan to go deal with this, a full list of acceptable documents is available at the DDS website, www.dds.ga.gov.

The new rules are an attempt by the state to comply with the Federal Real ID Act of 2005. Its goal was to strengthen identification standards in the post-9/11 era. The rules are being phased in, but the state must get all license holders, including those over age 50, in compliance by 2017.

Apparently, the nation’s grandparents must pose a huge security risk.

It is a bit galling for those who have lived in Georgia all their lives and driven safely for years to have to prove who they are with a birth certificate. Not everyone has a copy on hand, particularly older residents or those born in other states or countries who may not have easy access to one.

Proof of residence must be shown with utility bills or bank statements. Which is fine, except many do their banking and bill-paying online now and must print or acquire those documents, another inconvenience. And married couples may encounter difficulties if those bills are in the other spouse’s name.

All in all, it seems over the top. Ensuring that someone is a safe driver and has the eyesight and proper motor skills to operate a vehicle safely would seem to be the highest priority. Anyone determined enough to acquire a license illegally, for whatever reason, also could obtain a phony birth certificate and the other required documents. It just means more hassle for the 99.9 percent of those who have no dark motives.

We’re having a hard time imagining what terrible scenario this ordeal is trying to prevent. We can file this in the same category as what travelers must undergo to get on an airplane: Invasive body searches, removing shoes and other articles of clothing, unable to carry certain items in luggage.

Many will argue that the security measures are needed to ward off another 9/11-style attack. It’s a fair point to make, and surely no one wants to go through that horror again. We agree that it’s wise to stay prepared and not become as complacent as we were on Sept. 10, 2001.

It’s one thing to be vigilant and protective of our identities, modes of travel and borders. But there is a reasonable level of security that should suffice without making everyone jump through multiple hoops in their everyday lives. We can’t live life in fear of every possible doomsday scenario.

As always, when we put security ahead of convenience, we lose a little something that makes our way of life special. Yet the fear that a random someone somewhere might illegally obtain a driver’s license fouls up the works for everyone.

It’s tiresome living this way. America became great because it was bold and fearless. We conquered intimidating foes because we didn’t back down against them. Now we let fear of the unknown drive our every move.

State leaders already are promising to streamline the process at license offices. Everyone knew the new rules were coming, but apparently it takes angry voters in an election year to get their attention. The hope is that they can find a way to shorten lines and wait times with better procedures and training and more personnel.

But the state can’t solve the overall problem of the overly strict federal requirements. This needs to be revisited by Congress to keep law-abiding Americans from being overly inconvenienced by shadowy, undefined dangers. Or are we headed toward a day when everyone must carry the proper “papers” to prove who they are?

We’re all for reasonable security measures to head off anyone who seeks to abuse the open nature of our society to do us harm. But let’s also not compromise that freedom so much that it plays into the hands of those who have sought to destroy it.


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