NC law does little to keep drivers with revoked licenses off road, investigation shows
Posted May 8
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
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:
- Three people died in a drunk-driving crash on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh last August.
- A driver in Harnett County ran a stop light and hit a dump truck, which barreled into a home near Angier.
- A Cumberland County school bus driver and a student received minor injuries after a car slammed into the back of the bus.
- One woman died when the van she was riding in ran off the side of Interstate 85 in Orange County.
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.