NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — If you haven't recently been to a Driver Services Center (Tennessee's version of the DMV), chances are you'll be headed there soon, and state officials say you should prepare for a wait that could last several hours.
Last week, Congressman Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee) highlighted problems he faced while going to get his REAL-ID, saying the process took him four hours.
You can tell if you have a REAL ID by looking for a gold star on your drivers license. You'll need to get a REAL ID if you use your Drivers License as your identification to fly. The TSA will begin requiring REAL ID-compliant documents starting in October 2020. You do not need a REAL ID just to drive, and you do not need a REAL ID to vote.
While officials at the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security urge drivers to get their REAL IDs now, they anticipate millions walking through their doors next year, with many putting off the dreaded trip to the DMV.
"Would you be surprised to hear about a two, or three or four-hour wait?" asked NewsChannel 5's Jason Lamb.
"You know, it's strictly based on what the volume is, but I think that's possible based on what we're seeing in other states," said Paula Shaw with the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
It's part of a federal ID requirement put into place in 2005. So why did Tennessee wait until now to put REAL ID into place?
The state says the feds never gave them money to put REAL ID in place.
"Originally, it was an unfunded mandate," Shaw said. "And after a period of time, some funding was made available."
But even then, she says the state had to update its technology to make the change.
You have to apply for your first REAL ID in person, even those who years ago already showed the exact same documents that REAL ID now requires.
"The federal requirements, it requires that we re-verify because it is an extra level of identification," Shaw said.
The state says it hopes to increase staffing by January so every station at Driver Services Centers is open to help all of Tennessee's 4.7 million licensed drivers.
Instead of visiting a Driver Services Center, you can also visit a participating County Clerks office.
State officials say it's very important to check the exact documents you'll need to obtain a REAL ID, noting that many of the document options like pay stubs and utility bills must be recent -- issued within four months.
You will have to get a new picture taken for REAL ID, with a smile the state hopes won't be a forced one.