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Car insurance after a DUI

Read the Spanish version: ¿Cómo afecta un DUI en tu seguro de auto?

There’s no doubt about it: If you’ve been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you’ll face challenges with your car insurance.

No matter what you do, your auto insurance rates will increase when your insurer finds out. However, there are still ways to find affordable auto insurance quotes after your brush with the law.

How much will a DUI affect my rates?

Penny Gusner, consumer analyst at Insure.com, says that a DUI conviction can increase your rates anywhere from 30 to 200 percent, depending on the circumstances and your insurer’s policies. In other words, a $100 per month bill could rise to anywhere from $130 to $300. 

Even harsher, some companies may not even bother raising your rates.

“Some carriers will simply non-renew or cancel your policy after learning of your conviction,” she says. “Not all companies want to deal with drivers with checkered pasts.”

If that happens, you’ll be forced to look for car insurance with two dark marks on your record – a DUI and a cancellation. 

However, that doesn’t mean that you should necessarily stick with any insurer that doesn’t end your policy. If your insurer chooses to gouge you rather than drop you, it may be time to shop for a new company.

How long will a DUI affect my rates?

Although a DUI may remain on your criminal record for the rest of your life, insurance companies will usually only see what’s on your state’s department of motor vehicle (DMV) record. When your DUI is eventually cleared from your DMV record, you will once again be able to get cheaper car insurance.

Each state determines how long it will keep a DUI on your record. In most states, an alcohol- or drug-related conviction will remain on your DMV record anywhere from five to 10 years.

For example, California, Florida and New York will keep it on your record for 10 years, while Arizona keeps it for five years. But some states are much stricter, like New Mexico, where a DUI conviction will remain on your record for 55 years.

However, if your DUI is viewable by insurers for a lengthy period of time, state laws may only allow car insurance companies to rate on it anywhere from three to seven years. But there are exceptions, such as California, where state law keeps you ineligible for a good driver discount until 10 years have passed. 

Is there such a thing as DUI forgiveness?

Some car insurance companies will forgive your first at-fault car accident, but none will ignore a DUI conviction. But again, insurers vary widely in how much they’re going to penalize you.

“Every insurance company is different in how they treat a DUI and how they price it,” says Pete Moraga, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of California.  “This is one area where it really pays to shop around. Make calls. Go on the Internet and eventually you will find a company that best suits your needs until the DUI disappears from your record.”  

For example, if you're insured with Progressive, you will not face cancellation or nonrenewal due to a DUI conviction, but you are likely to face a rate increase. Progressive reviews rates on a case-by-case basis. It will weigh multiple factors such as your age, gender, driving history and vehicle model.

State Farm reviews DUIs on a case-by-case basis too. But the outcome also depends on which subsidiary you're with. If you have a preferred policy with State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. and receive a DUI, State Farm will likely move you into State Farm Fire & Casualty, which is its standard-policy company for riskier drivers and higher rates.

Will I end up in my state’s high-risk pool?

Each state has what’s called a “high-risk” or assigned-risk pool for risky drivers. How these pools operate can vary by state, but in general states require car insurance companies to participate in these pools in proportion to the amount of business they do there. Each insurer must accept the motorists assigned to it, retaining the profit or absorbing the loss that comes with that customer.

You’ll land in a high-risk pool when you can’t find a private insurer that will sell you a policy. But this is meant to be your last option. You’ll pay a high premium and secure only the minimum liability insurance you must have by law to drive. And you won’t find any money-saving options here – you’ll have to wait it out.

But don’t panic. Your first DUI will not necessarily land you in your state’s high-risk pool. However, if you have numerous speeding tickets, traffic violations and more than one DUI on your record, you may find yourself swimming in the high-risk pool and there’s not much you can do about it. At that point, you generally can’t find car insurance in the "voluntary market" until your driving record improves.

Is it possible my insurer won’t find out about my DUI?

Auto insurance companies may check your motor vehicle record only once every three years or when you're applying for a new policy. It's also possible that accidents, tickets and DUIs may never make their way to your official motor vehicle record.

According to the Insurance Research Council, as many as one in five convictions for traffic violations never end up on motor vehicle records due to lack of shared information between courts and motor vehicle departments, or because a conviction has been erased through alternative means, such as driving school.

If you get your DUI charge reduced in a plea bargain, or have a limited license suspension, such as 30 days, it's also very unlikely your insurer will find out about your conviction.

However, if your insurance company misses the conviction at the time it happens, it still has a few years to raise rates if the DUI is discovered later.

Don't count on your car insurance company missing the DUI. The odds are still good it will find it, which usually means a significant hike in your rates. 

What is an SR-22?

SR-22 insurance

Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania don't require SR-22s, but if you have an SR-22 and then move to one of these states, you must continue to meet the requirements of the SR-22 state where the offense was committed.

New York and North Carolina don't require SR-22 filings at all.

In some states there is a fee for SR-22s.

Source: Progressive

Most states require DUI offenders to get a form called an SR-22 from their auto insurers.

An SR-22 proves to the DMV that you carry liability insurance and can assist in regaining your license. An SR-22 also requires your insurance company to notify your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) if it cancels your auto insurance for any reason. You'll likely have to file this proof of insurance for three — sometimes five — years with your state's DMV.

Some car insurance companies don't offer SR-22 policies, so your policy could be non-renewed or cancelled because your company can no longer provide what you need.

What if I refused a breathalyzer?

The majority of states have some type of "implied consent" law, which means refusing a breathalyzer test usually does more harm than good.

"(An implied consent law) means that when you sign up for your driver's license, you also consent to taking a breathalyzer test upon demand from a police officer," says Eric Misterovich, a DUI attorney at Newburg Law in St. Joseph, Michigan.

Many times people refuse a breathalyzer because they don't want to provide evidence of their blood alcohol to police out of fear of being arrested. However, the penalty for refusing the breath test can be harsher than the OWI (operating while intoxicated) charge, says Misterovich.

"In short, at least for first-time offenders where there is no car accident or bodily injury, refusing to take a breathalyzer will likely subject you to greater penalties than the OWI" in Michigan, says Misterovich.

On the flip side, "from an evidentiary perspective, no breath test means an attorney may be able to argue away the subjective evidence,'" says Luftman. All that's left is how you appeared at the time of your arrest, what you said, how you smelled, and the officer's opinion of your field sobriety tests. You may be able to argue away those things," he adds.

Does that mean refusing a breathalyzer could spare you the pain of high car insurance rates? Don’t count on it, says Gusner.

“While it’s technically possible to beat a DUI charge this way, it’s not an easy thing to do,” she says. “Plus, you’re likely to end up paying a lot to an attorney if you even try, which can be especially painful if you don’t win the case.”

Can I still get car insurance if I lose my license?

If your license is suspended or revoked, your insurance company can cancel you at the end of your policy, or in some states your policy can be canceled midterm if the insurer finds out that you lost your license.  

It can be very difficult to find car insurance if you don’t have a valid license. But if you still need your car insured, either because it is financed or because you need someone else to drive you around in it, you’ll need to search for an insurer who will allow you to insure the car for another primary driver while excluding you as a driver.

Is there anything else I can do to improve my rates after a DUI?

Gusner says your best defense after being caught driving drunk is to accept the consequences of your actions and look for legitimate means to keep insurance costs at bay.

“Drunk driving is a serious crime that kills thousands of people every year,” she says. “If you escaped the situation without hurting anyone, your best bet is to pledge to do better in the future and look for the most forgiving insurance company you can find."

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