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Mismatched drivers license can lead to jail
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For new brides, changing a last name on scores of personal and legal documents may be a minor hassle.

But being booked into jail for having a driver’s license that doesn’t match up with your Social Security card can be a much bigger headache.

Georgia law requires that anyone making a name change also update his or her driver’s license within 60 days.

But since 2003, the state Department of Driver Services has run automated checks of driver license names against Social Security cards. If the names don’t match, they notify the license-holders. If the discrepancy isn’t resolved within 120 days, the driver’s license is canceled. And if you’re caught driving without a valid license, it can mean a citation, and often, a trip to the county jail.

Such was the case when Gainesville Middle School Humanities Academy Principal Audrey Simmons was in a fender-bender recently in Gainesville. After her car was rear-ended, Gainesville police checked her license and found it had been canceled by the Department of Driver Services for failure to match the name on her Social Security card, which listed her maiden name. Simmons’ husband, Gainesville school board member Kelvin Simmons, said last week that no notification was ever received from the state agency.

Susan Sports, a spokeswoman for the Department of Driver Services, said in the five years since the agency has been running checks of names, 42,142 of Georgia’s 6.5 million licensed drivers have failed to resolve the discrepancy and had their licenses canceled.

Sports noted that a canceled license is not the same as a revoked or suspended license and does not go on a person’s driving record.

"While ‘canceled’ is a dramatic term, there’s a difference," Sports said. "A suspension or revocation is for some infraction you’ve done. When we cancel your license, we just need additional information from you. Once you bring it in, you get (the license) back."

Sports expressed surprise that someone could be arrested and booked into jail for driving with a canceled license.

But Solicitor-General Larry Baldwin, the top prosecutor of misdemeanors and traffic offenses in Hall County, said he could find no exceptions for canceled licenses in Georgia’s statutes.

"There is nothing I see in the law that makes it a nonarrestable offense," Baldwin said, noting that driving without a valid license, no matter what the reason, usually results in an arrest because an officer can’t let the person drive away.

Baldwin said his office has handled a few previous cases in which a person — usually a woman who has changed her name through marriage — was pulled over while driving on a canceled license.

Baldwin said while he could not specifically address Simmons’ case, in general he would take into consideration the circumstances of each instance.

"If someone shows me a license is canceled and they had no knowledge of that, I would not see going forward with prosecution, if for no other reason than fairness," Baldwin said.

Sports said the Department of Driver Services does provide notification through the mail, but sometimes people who move and don’t change the address on their driver’s license — also a requirement under the law — won’t get the notice.

"Certainly we regret any inconvenience, but the procedure is anytime you have a change of address, you must notify (the department) within 30 days."

For those looking to straighten out any name discrepancies, they can bring an original certified document such as a marriage license, divorce decree or court-ordered name change into any Department of Drivers Services office.