Economy Watch: More Uninsured Drivers on Roadways

JONESBORO/PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - Insurance agencies across Arkansas report a larger number of hit and run accidents because people can't or won't pay insurance premiums, even though it's the law.

Officials with the Jonesboro Police Department reported Monday 11 accidents in parking lots over the weekend. Of those, police said 5 were hit and runs.

"Several reasons, no insurance, no drivers license, outstanding warrants. They might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol," said Kelly Lenderman with the Paragould Police Department.

Virginia Walls with State Farm Insurance in Paragould said the cost of having insurance is cheap when compared with the cost of not having it, having an accident and causing property damage or serious injury.

"The main thing is it's the law in Arkansas that we carry insurance," said Walls.

Walls, who has been an insurance agent in northeast Arkansas for 15 years, said her office is inundated with phone calls from customers who want to know about claims related to the ice storm. She said she gets several calls regarding hit and run accidents and accidents with no insurance daily.

"We get, without me looking, probably about 15-20%," said Walls.

According to Jonesboro Police, 106 hit and run accidents were reported in 2008. Less than a month and a half into the new year, and Jonesboro has already reported 24. If that pace continues through 2009, 192 hit and runs could be reported by December, nearly doubling the total for 2008.

"There seems to be a lot of uninsured motorists maybe because of the economy, or maybe, for whatever reasons they just don't keep their insurance," said Walls.

"You have people who barely have enough money to put gas in their tank so why would they stick around and try to pay for someone's damage if say, they don't have insurance," said Lenderman.

Insurance agents said if you're involved in a hit and run accident; try to obtain as much information about the suspect as possible. Information helps police have a better chance at making an arrest.

"Call the police department immediately so we can come out. If it's in a parking lot, maybe that business could have surveillance video. We could possibly get a tag number, vehicle description, that sort of thing," said Lenderman.

"It would be a good rule of thumb to get a police report. If there is any witnesses to the accident. If there was anybody around, you could get someone to, get their name and phone number to be a witness that would be very helpful also," said Walls.

"We have a lot of vehicles that get hit in the roadway and the person takes off. Now we do have it when it happens in a parking lot also. Most of the time it's not very likely that we will catch the person if they come back from, let's say, Wal-Mart, and found that they're vehicle had been struck by another vehicle," said Lenderman.

Walls said insurance companies want customers to purchase uninsured protection in order to protect themselves from paying for damages sustained in a hit and run accident.

"I think there has always been a large number of uninsured motorists, I think it is on the rise a little bit because of the economy and things like that," said Walls. "Insured citizens have to carry extra coverage in order to protect themselves in case of an accident with an uninsured motorist."

Police said the more serious an accident, the more severe the penalty.

"They are cited for leaving the scene of an accident, you know, if there is property damage or personal injury, when they go in front of the judge, the judge always asks in an accident if there was injury, especially if they don't have any insurance, you're subject to jail time, so it's a big issue," said Lenderman.

"It's a good idea to take pictures right at the scene of an accident, that'd be great. If someone has an accident, go ahead and take pictures right there, so they'll have it before they move their vehicles," said Walls.