Greensboro, NC -- An early morning fatal hit and run accident involving a driver without a license sheds light on a startling fact on the roads.
There are thousands of drivers, some you'll encounter in your commute each day, who the law has deemed unfit to drive, but are on the roads anyway.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study in 2000 and found one in five fatal crashes between 1993 and 1997 involved an unlicensed or improperly licensed driver.
The study was updated years later and the ratio remained unchanged.
That means these are people on the road driving next to you, and your kids, who haven't taken or passed a driving test, or who've had their driving privileges taken away for one reason or another.
News 2 spoke with two attorneys and a local police chief to find out if and how the law can better get these drivers off the street.
But instead, we found there's no easy fix.
Police say they are already doing everything they can.
But somehow these people are still finding their way back on the roads and disregarding the law.
So, does it fall back on the court system? Is the punishment not stiff enough?
"As I see it, things are being done to keep unlicensed drivers off the road especially the dangerous ones," said Greensboro attorney, Brian Tomlin.
Under state laws, drivers caught on the road without a license can face a fine and sometimes jail.
Defense attorney Joel Oakley says he's not sure if any penalty, however much stiffer, will deter those likely to violate that law.
"You're not going to take the most violent ones off the road. They are coming back anyway," he said.
The attorneys point out that when you look at the numbers, and in their experiences, most of the people on the roads without licenses are not the ones whose driving privileges were taken away because they were driving drunk or speeding.
Oakley and Tomlin say, about 80 percent of their cases involve people who missed a court date or didn't have enough to pay court fees for violations like a parking ticket case.
"'Driving While Poor', prosecutors and judges treat that with a certain amount of understanding and sympathy and leniency. Contrast that with people's whose license is suspended for things that are dangerous," Tomlin explained.
But tell that to the family who lost a loved-one in a crash with a driver without a license - right? While, the attorneys say they sympathize but the license itself - or lack thereof-- is usually not the problem. It's bad driving, which sometimes isn't the reason for the license revocation.
"There are those of us that are going to do what's right. And there are those that are not. And I don't care what we do; they are still going to be there," said Oakley.
Winston-Salem Police Chief Scott Cunningham also weighed in via email, writing that
"[The unlicensed driver issue] is a difficult problem but we as a community and society need to encourage compliance with our laws, and then everyone take responsibility to help keep us all safe."
Cunningham also said people can help police by reporting others who are driving without a license.
WFMY New 2