Neil Canter proudly displayed the gold star on his renewed driver's license Tuesday morning, proof that he had presented the paperwork necessary to qualify for Connecticut's new SelectCT ID identity verification program.
"I was ready to go," said Canter, a Weston resident, as he left the Norwalk branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
But other DMV customers at the agency's Norwalk, Bridgeport and Danbury offices were in the dark on the day of SelectCT ID's launch, even though the state conducted a public relations campaign and explained the changes in license renewal notices.
SelectCT ID is Connecticut's version of Real ID, a 2005 antiterrorism measure creating a national standard for driver's licenses. Those drivers who present paperwork proving their identity, their residence, their Social Security numbers and, if necessary, proof of name change, get a gold star affixed to their new licenses. The star is intended to grant easier access to airports and some federal buildings.
The Real ID program has been pushed back several times, in part because states complained about a lack of time and lack of funds necessary to overhaul motor vehicle systems, retrain staff and educate the public. Connecticut and other states successfully pushed to delay the launch from May until this month.
The Connecticut DMV has estimated it will take approximately six years for every driver to go through the license renewal cycle. Drivers have the option of not participating, but risk facing extra federal screening by 2017, when the federal government expects to fully implement the Real ID program.
Real ID has also proven controversial. It has been opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues the program will never fully get off the ground. Some states have refused to participate, and there was a failed attempt by Connecticut legislators in 2009 to opt out.
"I'm not entirely given over to this hyper-security concern that's sort of the aftermath of 9/11, but it is what we're being asked to implement," said state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, who sponsored a bill that would have exempted Connecticut from participation. "I think it will be somewhat burdensome to our citizens."
Given the new requirements, wait times were expected to be long at DMV branches and AAA offices over the coming days. The DMV on Monday urged drivers whose licenses were not expiring until late October or afterward to delay their visits and allow those with the most immediate needs to go first.
In Norwalk on Tuesday morning, the line was a steady 20-plus people long until a DMV staffer asked individuals who were only seeking a regular driver's license to move to another window.
Lou Cavaliere waited 40 minutes before he learned the details of SeleCT ID and decided to return with the necessary paperwork for his gold star.
"I have a month and a half," he said.
Long lines never materialized in Danbury.
Brian Lawrence, of Milford, who drove up to Danbury to register his vehicle, said he heard about the program "probably (on) the news (or) maybe the Internet," but was in no rush to obtain a SeleCT ID.
"I'm not planning on doing anything that they're not making me do," he said.
Lines were not any longer than usual in Bridgeport either, according to one staff member there.
"I'm just going to get a normal license," said Jose Cruz, of Bridgeport. "I didn't bring any of the documents I need, and I'm already here, so why leave now?"
Mary Willis, of Trumbull, said the new ID system will be helpful, but had not heard about it before coming to the Bridgeport office and reading information about it on a sign.
Fairfield resident Frank Moore, 63, said he is annoyed with the changes.
"Why do we need some new sort of ID?" Moore said. "It's the government making everything complicated once again. You don't even need it right now, so I'm just going to wait until they say I have to do it, whenever that is."
Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.