The rate of uninsured drivers in Ohio seems to be on the rise, with high levels of unemployment possibly leading to the gradual climb.
The Insurance Research Council compiles statistics based on accident claim data, or how often drivers report being in an accident with an uninsured motorist. The most recent data point is always a year or two behind.
However, certain trends have been found to exist in regards to the rate of uninsured drivers. For example, there is a direct correlation between unemployment rates and the percentage of uninsured drivers, said Patrick Schmid, director of research for the IRC.
"Obviously in 2009 the recession really started to hit," he added.
More recent statistics from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles confirm that the number has been steadily rising. In 2008, the number of Ohioans caught driving without insurance rose to over one million. In 2009, that number jumped another 3.5 percent, and continued to rise 2.9 percent in both 2010 and 2011.
The statistics for Washington County are slightly better than the statewide trends. Though the rate of uninsured drivers is increasing, it only increased 1.9 percent in 2009 and 2.1 percent in 2010. In 2011, the number of Washington County drivers caught without insurance was 2,923, an increase of less than 1 percent.
The OBMV gets its data in two ways. The first number comes from non-compliance suspensions. This means they tabulate the number of people who had their license suspended because they were caught driving without insurance, said Lindsey Bohrer, OBMV Spokeswoman.
The second way is through their random insurance verification program. Ohio law requires that the OBMV mail out insurance verification forms to 5 percent of registered Ohio vehicle owners. If an owner does not return the form showing proof of insurance, he or she can also face a non-compliance suspension, said Bohrer.
Ohio's rate of uninsured drivers is slightly higher than the national average, according to the IRC. They estimated 15.7 percent of Ohio drivers were uninsured in 2009. The national average was 13.8 percent.
One worry is that more uninsured drivers could lead to higher insurance rates for those who do choose to remain insured.
Local insurance agent Charlie Wentz said he has not yet seen an overall rise in insurance rates yet, but he has noticed more people dropping supplemental coverage, such as their uninsured motorist coverage.
"That is something they can take off their coverage because it is optional," he explained.
One of the reasons the rate is higher in Ohio is because it is a passive enforcement state, said Wentz.
"You can drive around without insurance until you get caught," he said.
The two states with the lowest rates of uninsured drivers, Maine and Massachusetts, both require drivers to show proof of insurance when they register a vehicle.