How Does a Drunk Driving Conviction Affect Your Insurance?

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If you are convicted of drunk driving, in most states your automobile insurance rates are likely going to go up for at least three years and you will probably be learning at lot about something called SR-22.

Whether your state calls it driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated or operating a vehicle while intoxicated, if you are convicted of any of those offenses, chances are your insurance rates will increase before you are allowed to drive again.

Laws Vary by State

The penalties regarding drunk driving vary from state to state, but in every state if you are convicted of impaired driving, your driver’s privileges will be suspended for at least 30 days to one year, even on the first offense.

In most states, to get your driver’s license and privileges back, you will have to provide the licensing agency with an SR-22 form, which proves that you have motor vehicle liability insurance. Under SR-22 laws, the insurance company is required to notify the licensing agency, usually the department of motor vehicles, if the policy is canceled, terminated or lapses.

Your Premiums Could Triple

When you go to your auto insurance agency to get an SR-22 form, your company will consider you a “high-risk” driver and increase your insurance premiums. This is especially true if you were previously in a “preferred class” or received safe-driver discounts.

If you are convicted of drunk driving, your auto insurance premiums can double, and in some states, even triple. You may want to shop around; some companies specialize in high-risk policies.

Not All Companies Offer SR-22 Policies

Some insurance companies do not offer SR-22 insurance policies. If you are convicted of drunk driving and your company does not offer SR-22, the company will cancel or not renew your current policy. You will have to find another company that does offer SR-22 and when you do, you can count on your rates being higher, because then you would also have a cancellation on your claims history.

Some states have laws that prohibit insurance companies from canceling policies before the term expires, even if you are convicted of a drunk driving charge. Check the laws in your state.

How Long Will Your Rates Increase?

Again, laws vary from state to state, but generally a drunk driving conviction will affect your insurance status for at least three years in most states for a first offense. For subsequent convictions, the length of time is much longer.

Many states now have drunk driving laws that provide “enhanced” penalties for special circumstances, such as if someone was injured, if a child was in the vehicle, if your blood alcohol concentration exceeded a certain level or if you were under the age of 21 at the time of your arrest.

For example, in all 50 states, a blood alcohol concentration of .08 is the level considered legally intoxicated. But in 40 states, penalties for a DUI conviction are doubled if the driver registers a “high” BAC level (usually over .15 or .20).

How Can You Avoid Increase Rates?

Increased rates for auto insurance only come into play if you want your driver’s privileges restored. You can avoid those extra costs by walking or taking public transportation. A few states still allow the operation of mopeds without a license.

Even if you do not personally own a vehicle, but wish to have your driving privileges restored after a DUI conviction, you still must provide a SR-22 form by buying a non-owner policy. In other words, you will have to buy insurance for a car that you do not even own.

The best way to avoid increase insurance premiums is simple. Don’t get behind the wheel while intoxicated. Use a designated driver. Call a taxi. It’s much cheaper in the long run.

Sources:

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “DUI/DWI laws” March 2007.

State of Alaska. Department of Motor Vehicles. “SR-22 Insurance Information” 2007.

Insure.com. “How a DUI conviction affects your insurance.” Dec. 13, 2006.

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