West Virginia one of first states to adopt new driver's license program

March 03, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Stephanie Harrison, a resident of Berkeley County, shows some of the documents she needed to renew her driver's license at the Division of Motor Vehicles.
By Richard F. Belisle

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — It took Stephanie Harrison five trips to the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles office to do what before Jan. 3 was a simple task — renew her driver’s license.

She said every time she went to the office, she was told she needed another form.

Blame it on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, DMV officials said.

“The new Secure Driver’s License and Identification Card Program is a nationwide effort to improve the integrity and security of all driver’s licenses and ID cards in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” according to a brochure on the new changes published by the DMV.

West Virginia is one of the first states to meet the new regulations. Drivers in Maryland and Pennsylvania are not affected yet.

Mountain State drivers, according to the brochure, must provide an original or certified copy of their birth certificate, their Social Security card and two proofs of residency to renew their driver’s licenses.

Sounds simple, but the process gets complicated for women who changed their names after marriage or women who are divorced.

Three Eastern Panhandle women — Harrison, Martha Zimmerman and Darlene Deneen — shared their ordeals at the Division of Motor Vehicles, which is a part of the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

Harrison, 30, of Berkeley County, bumped up against the new rules on her first attempt to renew her license.

The birth certificate issued by the hospital where she was born was not accepted by the Division of Motor Vehicles.

“It even had the feet (imprints of her baby feet) on the back, but they wouldn’t take it. I had to go to the courthouse to get a certified copy,” she said.

Her maiden name was on her Social Security card. No good. She showed the DMV clerk her U.S. passport, but that, too, had her maiden name. She brought in her West Virginia W-2 tax form that showed her name and Social Security number. It was accepted.

Harrison used a utility bill and mortgage statement to prove her residency.

“There has to be an easier way than this,” Harrison said outside the DMV office on Edwin Miller Boulevard on the day she finally got her new license.

Darleen Deneen’s problem went back 69 years. She was born in Washington County, Md. A hospital employee at the time spelled her name wrong on the birth certificate. She wrote Doraleen instead of Darleen.

When Deneen’s license renewal notice came in the mail, she went to the DMV office armed with what she thought were the forms she needed — voter registration card, current driver’s license, Social Security card and birth certificate.

The DMV would not accept the birth certificate. Her name did not match her name on the other documents.

Deneen has a hearing scheduled early next month before 23rd Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wilkes to have her first name corrected and to ensure that her last name remains Deneen.

She paid $155 in court costs plus $38 for the required legal ad in a local newspaper.

She also needed a certified copy of her marriage license. She sent $25 to the Montgomery County, Md., courthouse to get one.

Martha Zimmerman, 70, of Charles Town, W.Va., has been married three times.

She had to request a certified copy of her first marriage certificate from the Franklin County Courthouse in Chambersburg, Pa. Luckily, she had papers from her first divorce in a safe in her home along with papers from her second marriage, which took place in Frederick, Md., and divorce papers from that union.

She also had to round up certified documentation of her name changes from her maiden name through three marriages.

“This has been really upsetting,” Zimmerman said. “Here I am, a U.S. citizen, and I had to go through all this.”

The new system for license renewals is the same that requires all first-time driver’s license applicants to follow.

“All the states are going to be doing this,” said Natalie Harvey, spokeswoman for the state Division of Motor Vehicles in Charleston, W.Va. “We’re following federal guidelines.”

She said the move toward national ID cards began in 2005. The terrorists in the Sept. 11 attacks were able to board airplanes because they had fake driver’s licenses, she said.

“This will be a much more secure system,” Harvey said.

Residents have a choice between getting a regular West Virginia driver’s license or one that serves simultaneously as a national ID card, Harvey said. The latter will have a gold star on it.

“It will help getting through airport security and access to federal buildings,” she said.

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