Here are answers to your questions about conducting DMV business during the pandemic

Laveta Brigham

But since DMV business can’t always be postponed, we have compiled some tips and other information to help. The basics Your visit begins online. The District, Maryland and Virginia have expanded online services during the pandemic so you should check if your needed transaction can be done on your state […]

But since DMV business can’t always be postponed, we have compiled some tips and other information to help.

The basics

Your visit begins online. The District, Maryland and Virginia have expanded online services during the pandemic so you should check if your needed transaction can be done on your state agency’s website. Dozens of transactions, including some driver’s services such as license renewals and vehicle registrations, can be done from the comfort of your couch. (Bless the World Wide Web!)

If you have to go in person, make an appointment. Showing up without a reservation is a waste of time. None of the region’s motor vehicle service centers are accepting walk-ins. Appointments are limited, so if you know you’re going to need in-person services in the next few months, you should start trying to book an appointment now.

Be patient, persistent and prepared. When booking appointments online, some locations are showing they are booked through next year. There’s usually a way around that, including repeatedly refreshing your browser until new appointments pop up (more tips on that below). When you do secure a visit, have all the documents you need with you to avoid having to start over.

What services are available?

The District, Maryland and Virginia in June began resuming essential in-person motor vehicle services that were canceled when the region shut down in mid-March because of the pandemic. Branches are now open in all three jurisdictions, but operating on an “appointment-only” basis.

In-person visits are reserved for services that can’t be done online, such as obtaining a Real ID license or identification card, driving exams or new residents transferring their driving credentials.

Officials encourage you to continue to go online for transactions such as purchasing license plates or renewing vehicle registrations. Some license and ID renewals can also be done online, including if your license is already Real ID compliant in the District and Maryland or if the renewal is for a non-Real ID credential in Virginia.

All three jurisdictions are offering driver’s skill tests, but generally the waits for such appointments are long, making it difficult for aspiring new drivers to obtain their licenses.

In D.C., the Rhode Island Service Center is only taking Saturday appointments, but all other service centers, Adjudication Services and the Brentwood CDL Office are open during regular business hours by appointment only. The inspection station operates on a first-come, first served basis, and the self-service emissions inspection kiosk is open 24/7.

In Maryland, all MVA branches and Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program stations are open Monday through Saturday. The self-service inspection kiosks are accessible 24/7.

Virginia has reopened 73 customer service centers that are operating by appointment. Two locations, Lexington and Smithfield, are closed because they’re too small to accommodate safe social distancing. They will reopen in new locations next year.

Tips for booking an appointment

In all three jurisdictions, the key is to be persistent. Keep checking the online system for openings as new ones are released weekly and in some cases daily; slots also open when customers cancel.

In D.C., appointments for in-person transactions are scheduled through March 31. Some people report not finding an open slot through next year. The DMV releases new appointments most Tuesdays at noon for services within the following two weeks at all service centers.

In Maryland, the average wait time for all appointments is just over two weeks, but that varies based on the type of service needed. Appointments for vehicle services such as titling and business licensing, for example, usually can be secured within two or three days at most offices, while appointments for driver services such as presenting Real ID documents and taking a driver’s skills test, are booked through December.

MVA spokeswoman Whitney Nichels said customers can “check other local offices if the branch they typically visit does not have appointments available and to check [back] regularly for canceled appointments that become available.”

In Virginia, appointments are released for the next 90 days and fill up quickly, particularly in busy areas such as Northern Virginia. New openings are added daily, according to the DMV.

Virginia DMV spokeswoman Jessica Cowardin said customers should cancel appointments they no longer need and never book multiple appointments.

“Surprisingly we are experiencing no-shows,” she said. “To compensate, we are occasionally double-booking time slots.”

Still can’t get an appointment? Try this.

Customer phone lines have been overwhelmed for months. People have waited hours in line to speak with a representative, so if you’re calling, expect long waits. But if you have the time and patience and manage to connect to a human being, they may help you get an appointment. Several customers interviewed said they booked earlier appointments via phone.

Consider sending a message via Twitter (@MD_MVA, @dcdmv, @VirginiaDMV) or Facebook. Social media has proved to be an effective vehicle for getting things done and the agencies do respond to customers’ inquiries. It may take them a couple of days to respond, but generally they do.

What if my license, permit or other credentials have expired?

Some Washington-area residents have more time to renew expired — and soon to expire — driver’s licenses and other documents such as vehicle registrations. All three jurisdictions implemented extensions during the pandemic. Generally, the validity of such documents has been extended until after the health emergency has been lifted.

In the District, residents have until 45 days after the health emergency concludes to renew expired driver’s licenses, identification cards and vehicle registrations and to follow through with inspections, ticket payments and ticket adjudication responses. All driver’s licenses with expiration dates from March 1 through the duration of the public health emergency will be granted the waiver without penalty.

The city’s emergency order is expected to continue through Dec. 31 — unless Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) lifts it sooner or extends it. That means documents expiring on or after March 1 have been extended 45 days past that date.

In Maryland, all driver’s and business licenses, identification cards, permits such as handicap parking permits and registrations that expire or are eligible for renewal during the duration of the state of emergency, will be extended 30 days after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) lifts it.

In Virginia, driver’s licenses, identification cards and learner’s permits that expired between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31 were extended for 60 days. People who have credentials expiring this month have until Nov. 30 to renew. Virginia said it does not intend to issue another covid-related extension. However, more than 100,000 Virginians are eligible to renew online using a new two-year renewal option for driver’s licenses and ID cards.

Is insurance coverage impacted if my driver’s license expires?

Most insurers aren’t canceling or suspending auto insurance policies of drivers with expired licenses due to the closure of DMV offices or the backlog, said Kendall Bramble, an insurance agent with AAA Insurance in Washington.

Those policies generally remain in effect, or are renewed once the impacted motorists or policyholders provides proof that they have an appointment with the DMV, Bramble said. AAA Insurance, for example, is making provisions for people whose licenses have expired until they can get to their appointments at the DMV next year.

I’m planning on traveling for the holidays. Will I be able to get through a TSA checkpoint or board a plane if my license is expired?

If your driver’s license or state-issued ID expired on or after March 1, 2020, and you are unable to renew, you may still use it as acceptable identification at airport security checkpoints. TSA will accept expired driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs a year after the expiration date.

“We recognize that state motor vehicle offices may be operating at reduced levels and that individuals may also be hesitant to visit a motor vehicles office during the pandemic,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

What about Real ID enforcement?

The Department of Homeland Security has extended the Real ID enforcement deadline to Oct. 1, 2021. So Americans now have until next fall to obtain a Real ID driver’s license or identification card, which will be required to board a domestic flight. Real ID applicants need to present required documents to the DMV in person.

Maryland and D.C. have made Real ID a requirement while it is optional in Virginia. A Real ID is generally identifiable by a star in the upper-right corner. Residents who are Real ID compliant may be able to renew their credential online.

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