The driver’s license requirements won’t make driving in the District any better. The law is strictly about getting into federal facilities and commercial airliners. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The District’s Department of Motor Vehicles has changed its messaging after initially announcing that all D.C. residents would soon need to take a trip to the DMV to renew their licenses or identification cards.

“Our initial process clearly seemed to cause confusion the way we were messaging,” said DMV director Lucinda Babers. “So we backed off to say, ‘Stop panicking!’ ”

The confusion was over whether or not every D.C. resident would have to update his or her credential by January — whether it had expired or not — to get something called a REAL ID, in accordance with a 2005 law that created federal standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. Despite the original message, the answer is no.

There are only two things you need to know, Babers said.

First: If you already have a D.C. issued credential — either a driver’s license or an identification card —you can use it, just as you have been, until it expires.

Second: Beginning Thursday, May 1, if you go to the DMV to get or renew a credential you’ll need to bring more documentation than you have in the past. You’ll have to bring proof of identity, proof of your social security number and proof of residence in order to get your REAL ID.

It’s still true that REAL ID enforcement goes into effect for entering federal buildings beginning on Jan. 19, 2015, and for flying domestically no sooner than 2016 (although you can still use a passport, too).

However, Babers said, once D.C. begins issuing REAL IDS, “we become what’s called a REAL ID compliant jurisdiction.” That means that any license or identification issued in D.C. will be accepted, even if it was issued before May 1.

“You’re still gonna be okay to enter the federal buildings and board planes,” Babers said, so long as your credential hasn’t expired.

When it does expire, even if it’s eight years from now, you’ll have to bring proof of identity, proof of social security number and proof of residence with you to the DMV to get it renewed.

Confusion began earlier this month, when the DMV Web site said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would require a REAL ID to enter federal buildings after Oct. 1, and require a REAL ID to board domestic flights by October 2016. In fact, the DHS plans to phase in the change for entry to federal buildings on Jan. 19, and for flights “no sooner than 2016.”

Babers said the DMV was just trying to get the word out to those who would need to obtain credentials after May 1 that they will need to bring more documentation with them. “Everybody else got in the way and kept raising their hands and kept saying what about me?” Babers said.

Let’s go through the details of the new program in Q&A form, then you can add any more Qs in the comments field below. (The REAL ID Act raised concerns among civil libertarians, privacy advocates and immigrant groups nationwide. Is this a state-issued driving permit showing the user has met certain knowledge and skill standards, or is it a national ID card? This posting does not deal with those issues, important as they are. Rather, it’s meant to serve as a practical guide to D.C. drivers who may be concerned about how the DMV changes affect them as of this week.)

Q. What does a REAL ID license let me do?
A. The REAL ID Act of 2005 sets standards on what identification would be accepted when entering federal facilities. The program would be phased in over many years. Where a driver’s license is offered as official identification, the license will have to be of the new type, indicating that the holder has presented the necessary proofs to obtain the license.

A driver’s license that complies with the REAL ID Act eventually will be the only type of driver’s license accepted for identification in restricted areas at federal buildings and nuclear power plants. It will eventually be the only type of driver’s license accepted for boarding a commercial airliner, but that won’t apply before 2016. A REAL ID driver’s license and a regular, unexpired driver’s license are equally valid for driving.

Q. What happens on Thursday?
A. As of May 1, D.C. residents who are getting their first D.C. driver’s license, or renewing or replacing licenses must visit a D.C. DMV office with the necessary documentation, described below. These will be the first licenses issued to D.C. residents under the REAL ID program.

Q. My license hasn’t expired. Do I need to go in?
A. No. Your unexpired license remains valid.

Q. My license is expiring. When I go in, what will DMV ask for?
A. To get the new license, applicants must appear in person at a DMV office to supply proof of identity, proof of address and proof of social security number.
The list of documents that can be used to provide proof of identity is long, but these are some of the most common forms: A U.S. birth certificate or birth certification card filed with a state office of vital statistics, a U.S. passport, a U.S. military identification card, a certificate of naturalization, a certificate of U.S. citizenship, a consular report of birth abroad issued by the U.S. State Department. See the full list on the DMV Web site. Note that you cannot submit a document that is past its expiration date.

For proof of D.C. residency, you must submit two documents from a long list. These are some of the most common items from the list: A utility bill with your name and address issued within the past 60 days, a phone bill showing name and address, also issued within the past 60 days, a deed or settlement agreement with your name and property address, an unexpired lease or rental agreement with your name as the lessee or renter, a D.C. property tax bill from the past 12 months, an unexpired homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy with your name and address. See the full list on the DMV Web site.

For proof of your Social Security number, provide one of these: a Social Security Card, a Social Security Administration verification printout with your full name and Social Security number, a pay statement showing your full name and Social Security number, a W-2 wage and tax statement, a 1099 tax form showing full name and Social Security number. See this page on the Social Security Administration Web site for information on replacing a card.

Q. What if I don’t have a Social Security number?
A. The District will issue another type of license, called the Limited Purpose driver’s license. This path includes many of the steps necessary to obtain a regular driver’s license, including the knowledge test and the road test. This is the key difference: Applicants must have lived in the District for at least six months, and they must not have a Social Security number or be eligible for one.

The Limited Purpose license can’t be used for the federal ID purposes covered by the REAL ID Act, and it will be marked to show that. Instead of having the star in the upper right, it will say, “Not valid for official federal purposes.”

Applicants must schedule appointments with DMV for this type of license. Study the Driver Manual beforehand, because you will have to pass the knowledge test or schedule a new appointment. This DMV Web page has more information about the Limited Purpose license.

Q. Where am I going to do all this?
A. See the list of DMV service centers. Click on the name of the service center for more information, including the hours of operation. DMV service centers have Web cams focused on the waiting areas, to give you an idea of how crowded they are.

Q. Can I use one document to fulfill multiple requirements?
A. No.

Q. Does the new license cost extra?
A. No. The REAL ID program doesn’t change the fee you will be charged for the license. See the full list of fees on the DMV Web site.

Q. Will I walk out with the new license?
A. No. It will be mailed to your address. (DMV says it will not mail it to a post office box.)

Q. What about Maryland and Virginia?
A. States are in different stages of compliance with the REAL ID Act. The law specifies what the states’ motor vehicle departments must do to show their driver’s licenses meet the security requirements and that they can prevent fraud. See a pdf of the REAL ID Act. But on the customer side, the implementation programs have varied somewhat.

The Department of Homeland Security deems Maryland among the states in compliance with the act. Nothing in the Maryland licensing rules is changing this week.

Virginia has not been deemed in compliance with the REAL ID Act, but has an extension till October, and it’s renewable.