Uninsured drivers can cost you

Jim Blaylock/Staff
Willie Smith poses for his drivers license photo as he renews his license in Evans, Ga. Magistrate Judge Pat Hardaway has noted that there are a lot of people driving on suspended licenses.

At any given time, hundreds of people are driving around the Augusta area without insurance or with a suspended license, and officials say it could end up being costly if a wreck occurs.

"Normally, if you have a suspended license, you don't have insurance," said Gloria Crosby, the director of the traffic division at Columbia County Probate Court. "And if you're involved in a wreck with someone with a suspended license and they have no insurance, then you are the loser."

In Columbia County, officials say, the number of people caught driving without insurance has risen from 152 cases in 2006 to 278 each in 2007 and 2008.

Fewer people with suspended licenses are paying timely fines so that their driving rights can be restored, Ms. Crosby said. She said she sees it as another result of the economic downturn, with fewer people able to pay a license-reinstatement fine or keep their insurance payments up to date.

Last year, Columbia County dealt with 316 suspended-license cases, Ms. Crosby said. That's 120 fewer than in 2007, but Ms. Crosby said it seems that more cases are staying unresolved longer.

Charles Willey, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Revenue, which oversees a database of insured drivers, said his office didn't notice much of a statewide increase in cases involving suspended licenses or no insurance last year.

"We may see more of it this year going forward because people are hurting," he said.

As of Jan. 30, according to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, about 190,000 people had suspended licenses and likely still live in Georgia, said Jennifer Ammons, an agency spokeswoman.

In South Carolina, Beth Parks, the communications director for the state's Department of Motor Vehicles, said it is already seeing a slight increase in the number of drivers ticketed for not having insurance. The number rose from 9,704 in the 2006-07 fiscal year to 10,265 last fiscal year, nearly a 6 percent jump.

Aiken County's Traffic Court doesn't keep a tally of cases involving suspended licenses or lack of insurance.

Richmond County had 808 cases involving lack of insurance last year, said Augusta State Court Solicitor General Harold Jones. He said such cases were not tracked until 2008. Mr. Jones said there were 1,271 suspended-license cases in 2008, an increase of 166 from 2007.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 823-3338 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.