9 Investigates: Dangerous uninsured drivers on rise in NC

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The number of uninsured drivers in North Carolina has risen over the past three years. It's a problem police say is costing lives, and costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Gastonia resident Tonia Grimes reached out to Channel 9 after an uninsured driver crashed through her sons' bedroom wall.
Grimes said Rickie Gene Whitaker's car ended up inside her sons' bedroom.
Grimes said her first thoughts immediately went to her children, who spend much of their time in their bedroom. Thankfully, they weren't at home at the time of the crash.

"The way the car came in, it would have hit my youngest son's bed." -- Tonia Grimes, mother

Grimes said relief turned to anger after learning Whitaker had no insurance.  Grimes said the policy number he gave police didn't exist.
Channel 9 called the insurance company listed on the police report. A manager told Channel 9 they had no comment.
Grimes ended up paying hundreds of dollars in repair costs and hotel bills.
Channel 9's Stephanie Coueignoux dug into Whitaker's history and found just four days earlier, police say he had hit a parked car.

The police report from that incident stated he didn't have insurance then either.
Channel 9's Stephanie Coueignoux knocked on Whitaker's door to try and speak with him. She was told "no comment" when she asked about his insurance status.
Grimes said every time she opens her front door she's reminded of what her family went through. She said Whitaker parks his car right outside her home.
"I look at it every day, which is crazy," Grime says, "He's still driving! He drives almost every day and doesn't care."

WATCH:  Tonia Grimes: 'The room looked like it caught fire'

Drivers in North Carolina are required to have insurance. First-time offenders can have their licenses suspended up to 30 days, and be fined $50. If it happens again within 3 years, a driver will face additional fines of up to $150 and could face jail time or probation, but that's not mandatory.
Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department Sgt. David Sloan doesn't think those penalties are tough enough.  He says many drivers are willing to take the risk instead of paying premiums.
"We're out here stopping people who have 14 or 15 driving while their license is revoked charges on their record," Sloan said.
Sloan says officers can issue citations for driving without insurance, but after that it's up to the court system.
Sloan says it's frustrating for officers, because it's a problem they see every day.
Sloan believes tougher punishments would deter drivers from lapsing on their insurance, "Maybe stick them in jail a little longer, higher penalties, higher fines for these individuals."

The North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles has seen the number of uninsured drivers rise steadily for the past several years.
In 2011, the DMV penalized 239,835 uninsured drivers. In 2012, that number rose to 240,687. In 2013, it jumped again to 246,614.
A DMV spokesman told Channel 9 they have several methods to find uninsured drivers. When insurance is terminated for any reason, the insurance company is required to submit a form to the DMV. The registered owner is then notified.

The DMV also has a Call Center where customers can report accidents involving an uninsured driver. The DMV then contacts the insurance company to confirm if the driver had insurance at the time of the accident. If the driver did not have insurance at the time, the DMV then issues a notice stating the driver’s license is revoked.

MORE INFO: State-by-state guide on driving without insurance penalties

Channel 9 asked what the DMV is doing to actively find and penalize uninsured drivers. The DMV spokesman says they use an automatic random sampling program. The program notifies insurance companies and requests they provide a certificate of insurance for drivers.
 Sloan believes a more active and hands-on approach is needed. He says it comes down to saving lives.
Sloan explains, "In the unit we're in, we see mainly severe crashes and fatalities. The ones we actually see the most of with people without insurance are the pedestrians getting struck."
Grimes says she knows that danger all too well.

"My greatest fear is somebody could get killed." -- Tonia Grimes, mother

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety told Channel 9 she is not aware of any new pending legislation on uninsured drivers.
Channel 9 also called and emailed the governor's office for comment. So far we have not yet received a response.
In South Carolina, driving without insurance carries tougher penalties than North Carolina. According to the Consumer Federation of America, a first time offender will received a fine of up to $200 or a sentence of up to 30 days in jail, and a suspended license until proof of liability insurance coverage is provided, and a $200 reinstatement fine.