WRAL Investigates

NC law does little to keep drivers with revoked licenses off road, investigation shows

Posted May 8

— Austin Baucom was 23 years old when he died in a car wreck last October.

Police said Baucom was driving on Morgan Street in Raleigh when another driver, Christian Cosme, ran a red light and slammed into Baucom's car. Baucom died at the scene.

Austin Baucom was big, and he loved big, too. He knew how to make everyone laugh, and he could brighten any room.

His death hit his family hard.

"I fell to my knees as if someone had punched me in the gut," said Cindy Baucom, Austin's mother.

But Austin Baucom's death wasn't hard just because he was so young or because of his personality.

Cindy Baucom said her son's death didn't have to happen.

Revoked licenses

More than 100,000 drivers have their licenses revoked in North Carolina, but court records show that revocation does little to keep them from driving.

In 2016, a total of 131,000 people were charged with driving with a revoked license. As many as 30,000 of those drivers were charged more than once, according to court records.

The driver who hit Baucom was one of several people locally who were charged with driving with a revoked license after causing damage, injury or death in a crash:

The debate about how to fix the problem, though, isn't as simple as keeping people without licenses from driving. Cindy Baucom believes tougher laws can combat those who put others at risk by driving illegally.

State law lowers penalty

There are three ways to have your license suspended or revoked in North Carolina.

The first is driving while impaired.

Second, other moving violations, such as a reckless driving conviction, excessive speeding or too many points on your license, will also get a license pulled.

Third, the court can revoke your license for failure to appear or not paying a court fine.

There are 813 cases this week in Wake County courtrooms for charges of driving with a revoked license. Many of those cases go through traffic court, where they meet Chief Magistrate Dexter Williams.

"It bothers me if someone keeps doing it over and over again, and they keep driving," Williams said. "Eventually, they're going to hurt somebody or kill somebody, and they're not going to have insurance."

Changes in state law, though, have decreased the penalty for driving without a license, as long as it wasn't revoked for drunk driving.

In the past, driving without a license was a moving violation. So, every time someone was pulled over for driving with a revoked license, the new charged tacked on more time before the license could be reinstated—an additional year for a second violation, and two more years for a third.

Opponents of the previous law said it could spiral out of control, eventually leading to permanent revocation and huge fines for people who couldn't afford it.

"By getting a little more lenient on the (people who had their licenses revoked), it actually encourages people to fix their situation so they can drive legally," said defense attorney John McWilliam.

A push for change

State Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, wants the penalties for driving with a revoked license to matter.

He recently filed legislation to tow vehicles when drivers are caught on the road with a revoked license. The bill didn't make it out of committee, but he still believes something needs to be done.

"This is an area of our law that is being ignored by a huge amount of people," Cleveland said.

Cleveland said he did not consider differences in punishments for people who had their license revoked for reckless or drunk driving or for less dangerous reasons, such as failure to pay a fine.

Cindy Baucom now focuses on her son's life, not his death. But, she wants more consequences for drunk and reckless drivers to save someone else's child.

"If you get behind a wheel and your license is revoked, there should be a stiff penalty," Baucom said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, North Carolina's driving while revoked laws are in line with most states when it comes to level of punishment and fine. There are seven states, though, that do have laws that call for the possible seizure of vehicles.

Cleveland said he'll keep trying to toughen penalties on those who drive when they're not licensed.


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  • John Johnson Jun 20, 8:09 p.m.
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    Not Surprising. Even Seen Many Times When Law Enforcement is Aware, And Even Catch The Violators, Several Times Written Up ( With Drugs, High, Staggering, ETC) And Let Them Drive Off Or Go On In Their Homes, And Do Nothing Else. And Right Back Out Driving within a Few Minutes! Then Courts Let Them Free Time After Time Again!!

  • Norman Lewis May 28, 2:24 p.m.
    user avatar

    First offense for driving while revoked assuming no accident involving injuries, I'm willing to be lenient. A second conviction should involve lengthy jail time. If you can't learn your lesson, some downtime may help. A third offense, should involve a long prison sentence. Eventually, even the recalcitrant will get the point. The public must be protected. Any illegal immigrant arrested should be deported immediately.

  • James Johnson May 9, 3:54 p.m.
    user avatar

    How many of these "unlicensed drivers" are also illegal immigrants?

  • Rod Runner May 9, 10:41 a.m.
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    Also, everyone realizes that we can't send these people to jail because our jails are overfull with people who also really shouldn't be in a prison, right?

    Marijuana is illegal, for sure, but people who possessed it for personal use are in jail.

    What is your priority for putting people in jail? Because we don't have the room. And we really should be trying to turn people's lives around and not just jail them.

    Sure, someone who has had their license revoked repeatedly might not be redeemable for that. But anyone who did it once should at least be given a chance before the ultimate punishment befalls them and we fill a jail with someone that shouldn't be there when we have others that should and we have to put them on probation because there is no room.

  • Rod Runner May 9, 10:35 a.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Just 2 years ago the NCGA passed a bill, that was signed by McCrory that allowed illegal immigrants to obtain a limited drivers license.

    I know your feeling, but if they're going to be here anyway, I'd rather them be able to drive legally with insurance than to drive anyway without it. If they were in an accident with you, you'd want to get their insurance to pay, right?

    If they have no way to obtain a license or insurance in the first place, then you're paying every time.

  • Rod Runner May 9, 10:31 a.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Also, if you get caught driving 15 mph over the speed limit or more, 1 year mandatory jail time.

    How about mandatory jail time for things that make your lose your license in the first place? Then you won't have to worry about someone driving on a revoked license, they'll be in prison and not driving.

  • Rod Runner May 9, 10:30 a.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Undocumented people in the state of NC can still get a driver's license. Pat McCrory signed this into law. So that's not really solving much.

    I'd rather have an illegal immigrant be able to get a limited drivers license and insurance than have them drive without it if they're going to be here anyway.

  • Rod Runner May 9, 10:28 a.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    I'm pretty sure the State does go after expired registrations now. Through your taxes. That's why they tacked it on to the property tax.

    Also, you don't 100% know that someone's registration is expired just because you see an old sticker. They may have just forgotten to put the sticker on.

    Sure, they may get a ticket for it if a cop notices it, but they may not give a ticket once they see the registration isn't actually expired, just the sticker is not on.

    Also, I don't know about you, but I'd rather cops pull over speeders and other reckless drivers than try to pay attention to registrations.

    Many cop cars have automatic plate readers now, so they'll know without looking that a registration is expired and can decide to pull the car if necessary.

  • Michael Bawden May 9, 9:57 a.m.
    user avatar

    NC laws don't even keep illegals off the road with NO driver's license. judge just asks if they are going to get one. The defendent says yes, pays a fine and leaves. Wish I only had to pay couple of hundred and never pay for insurance or driver license fees. Think I am kidding, go sit in Wake traffic court for a couple of days.

  • Danny Basden May 9, 9:31 a.m.
    user avatar

    Don't look for this situation to get any better and its not just revoked license but those with no license, tags or insurance. .... http://www.wral.com/durham-does-away-with-police-checkpoints/16569921/