Driving on Fourth of July can set off fireworks with your auto insurance
Before you drive to your favorite fireworks display this year, consider hosting your own celebration at home. Hitting the road after a Fourth of July get-together is more dangerous than returning home from a New Year’s Eve party, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“July 4 is typically the worst day for (car) crash deaths,” says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the highway safety institute. The combination of exposure — a lot of driving on that day — plus the celebratory atmosphere that accompanies the Fourth of July may be contributing factors, Rader says.
According to the highway safety institute, 721 U.S. traffic deaths occurred between 2005 and 2009 on July 4, compared with 654 deaths for Jan. 1 during the same period. That works out to 144 deaths a day for the Fourth of July and 130 a day for New Year’s Day.
|The Fourth of July typically is the worst day for traffic deaths, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.|
You booze, you lose
In addition, the Fourth of July trails only 8 percentage points behind New Year’s Day for the highest blood-alcohol levels related to deaths in car crashes. Fifty percent of car crash deaths on New Year’s Day and 42 percent on the Fourth of July involve at least one driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more, compared with 32 percent on a typical day, Rader says.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia consider it a crime to drive with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more.
In fact, no amount of alcohol may be safe.
A study published in the June 20, 2011, issue of Addiction showed that drivers who tested positive way below the legal limit for blood-alcohol content were more likely to be involved in car accidents than sober drivers.
Even with a slight buzz, drivers drove significantly faster and were less likely to be appropriately using a seat belt, the study shows. The more alcohol the driver drank, the faster he was likely to be driving and the more severe the car accident was likely to be.
An alcohol-related auto insurance claim is much more complicated than the average accident because it involves a criminal element. A DUI affects your auto insurance, and your driving privileges may be revoked, says Jeff Baker, a State Farm insurance agent in Huntington Beach, Calif.
“If you are the driver of the car in an alcohol-related crash, your policy may be cancelled immediately, as your license will be automatically suspended by the court,” Baker says. “No license, no insurance.”
A drunken driving crash involving injuries is even worse. “If there are injuries, you will be charged with a felony,” Baker says. Also, if the injuries are severe and exceed the liability limits on your primary policy, you could face financial hardship. The victim can take half of your wages for the next 10 years, then go to court and take half for the following 10 years, Baker says.
DUI laws vary from state to state. For laws in your state, visit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website.
Long-standing insurance clients may fare slightly better following a DUI. “If you’ve been with a company for at least three years, your carrier may decide to keep your coverage,” Baker says. Still, your premiums will skyrocket 300 to 400 percent for the first year after a DUI and gradually decrease for the next seven to 10 years.
If you are convicted of either a felony or misdemeanor DUI, you must provide proof of insurance (a financial responsibility filing) to your state’s motor vehicle department to reinstate your license, Baker says. One of those filings, known as an SR-22 or an FR-44, generally costs $20 to $200.
If you’re dropped by your insurance company, you may have to buy a policy with a “substandard” carrier that insures high-risk drivers and offers the minimum amount of liability coverage, Baker says. Just two states, Iowa and New Hampshire, do not mandate that drivers carry minimum liability auto insurance.
Fourth of July safety tips
You can avoid becoming a traffic statistic by keeping a few driving safety tips in mind this Fourth of July:
• When attending fireworks displays and Fourth of July parties, remember to obey all traffic detours, road closures and traffic signals.
• Avoid cutting across parking lots, where roughly one-fifth of car accidents happen.
• When backing out of a parking space, pay close attention to avoid hitting a pedestrian or another car.
• When driving through neighborhoods, stay alert for children who may step into the road to watch or participate in fireworks displays.
• Assign a designated driver for your Fourth of July gathering or volunteer to be one.
Rader offers this standard reminder: “Buckle up, don’t drink and drive, and don’t speed.”