Thousands of Iowans Need to Renew Their Expired Licenses

Ian Richardson
Des Moines Register

Des Moines, Iowa – Four months after the coronavirus prompted the Iowa Department of Transportation to shut down walk-in appointments at its license renewal stations, the number of Iowans with expired licenses has more than quadrupled the normal level.

More than 45,000 Iowans had expired driver’s licenses as of last week, up from a typical range of 7,000 to 10,000, according to the Iowa DOT. Many of the outdated licenses remain valid under an emergency proclamation signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, which covers licenses that expired as far back as Jan. 16. But Reynolds has indicated the extension will end soon.

When Reynolds renewed her emergency proclamation on Friday, the updated proclamation noted, “Iowans should not expect” the relaxed guidelines will extend past Aug. 23.

Iowa, by law, has a built-in 60-day grace period for expired licenses, but thousands of Iowa licenses that expired more than 60 days ago will immediately become invalid once the proclamation ends, according to the Des Moines Register.

Iowa DOT staff are working through the backlog of expired licenses, contacting motorists to encourage them to set up appointments or renew their licenses online, if they are eligible to do so, said Melissa Gillett, director of the motor vehicle division.

“We have been focusing on the number of Iowans who have an expired license beyond their 60-day grace period, and we are starting to see this number come down as both DOT and county treasurer offices work to catch up with the backlog,” Gillett said in an email.

Gillett said there were more than 35,000 people statewide whose licenses had expired within the past 60 days and more than 10,000 whose license expired more than 60 days ago. She said it’s difficult to know precisely how many license renewals have been delayed because of the pandemic. The state database doesn’t differentiate between licenses in need of renewal and licenses that have expired for other reasons, such as a move out of state or a loss of driving privileges.

The Iowa DOT announced the suspension of walk-in license renewal March 16, when it issued a news release asking customers to postpone in-person services and make appointments for urgent visits.

The goal was to reduce the number of people waiting at the centers. People who schedule appointments must now wear a mask and undergo a health screening when they arrive. Gillett acknowledged the wait times for appointments have been long. Appointment schedules have recently been booked three weeks out, she said, but the Iowa DOT has been encouraging Iowans to continue checking back.

The DOT is also offering six-month license extensions for those who need more time to make appointments, Gillett said. Motorists must have a license expiring within 90 days to get the extension. Recently, the number of license renewals has been on the rebound. There were 18,500 license and ID cards issued statewide, matching Iowa’s pre-coronavirus volume, which typically sits between 17,000 and 20,000.

The resurgence in license renewals has come as more Iowans are returning to the state’s roads. Early in the pandemic, Iowa DOT data showed a steep drop-off in traffic, but traffic levels are now steadily rising.

In mid-April, the DOT’s data show the number of vehicles traveling on Iowa’s interstates, highways, secondary roads and city streets collectively dropped 60% to 70% below the number from that time last year.

For now, many expired Iowa driver’s licenses are still good for more than just driving.

The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division has followed Iowa DOT guidance regarding the use of expired driver’s licenses and IDs for alcohol purchases. Iowans can still use a driver’s license that expired as far back as Jan. 16, or an expired license plus proof of a six-month extension from the Iowa DOT.

For Iowans seeking to fly, the Transportation Security Administration is accepting driver’s licenses or state-issued identification that expired as far back as March 1 at its checkpoints. TSA will accept these expired IDs for either a year after their expiration date or 60 days after the emergency ends, whichever is the longest. The Department of Homeland Security has also moved back the enforcement of requirements for airplane passengers to present driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs that comply with the federal Real ID law to Oct 1, 2021, a year after the guidelines were originally scheduled to take effect.


This story first appeared in The Des Moines Register., and it has been edited. It was distributed as a member exchange story by The Associated Press.

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