Parties -- at the office, at home, at nice restaurants -- are just as much a part of the holiday season as shopping for gifts and decorating the house. Unfortunately, drunken driving is all too common during the holiday season as well.
Some states call it driving under the influence (DUI) and some call it driving while intoxicated (DWI), but the end result is the same: If you're convicted of a drunken driving offense -- during the holiday season or any other time of year, for that matter -- your auto insurance rates are going to go up.
If you get stopped for drunken driving, know that you are not alone: The FBI estimates 1.5 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in 2008. That's one arrest for about every 140 licensed U.S. drivers, the Insurance Information Institute reports.
If you are convicted, your auto insurance rates could rise anywhere from 5 percent to 100 percent, says Bill Martin, senior vice president at Farmers Insurance. Your driving record will note your drunken driving conviction, which insurers review to determine your rate. Martin estimates an average rate increase of 25 percent to 35 percent for drivers with DUIs or DWIs.
"The thing insurance companies are concerned about is whether something bad's going to happen again," Martin says. "Not necessarily a DUI, but an accident. That's why rates go up."
How big of a rate hike you'll see after a drunken driving conviction depends on a number of factors, including:
1. Age. Young drivers are socked with big increases after a DUI, Martin says. They're more accident-prone to start with -- add drunken driving to their mix, and insurers become wary. "It could be predictive of a lifelong problem," he says.
2. Arrest circumstances. If you were arrested at a sobriety checkpoint, you should see a less dramatic rate change than if you were arrested after getting into a multicar crash, Martin says. Some states rank drunken driving offenses in several categories of severity, a factor that insurers will consider in setting rates.
3. Driving history. If also have a recent car accident on your record, Martin says, you can expect a substantial rate bump.
4. State. Each state has different rules that dictate how much insurers are allowed to charge drivers, Safe Auto spokesman Marco Capalino says. As a result, insurers may charge more for higher-risk drivers in some states than in others.
5. Location. Drivers who live in dense, urban neighborhoods with more high-speed highways are considered a higher risk for future accidents after a DUI.
6. Insurer's philosophy. Insurers calculate rates based on the company's own pool of insured drivers and their accident histories, Capalino says, so rates vary from insurer to insurer.
"There's no one way companies do it," he says. "Some companies just flat-out won't insure you."
7. Lack of coverage. If you didn't have insurance coverage at the time of your drunken driving arrest, it's going to be difficult to obtain at any price afterward, Farmers Insurance's Martin says. You've branded yourself doubly irresponsible in insurers' eyes by failing to carry insurance and by driving drunk. You likely will have to be insured by your state's high-risk pool, where rates can be double what you were paying privately.
8. Number of DUIs. Your first drunken driving conviction will hike your rates substantially, because studies have shown first offenders often are serious alcohol or substance abusers. Research compiled by the National Traffic Law Center and Mothers Against Drunk Driving found that more than 80 percent of first offenders are problem drinkers or alcoholics.
About one-third of drivers arrested for being impaired annually are repeat offenders, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports. After a second conviction, it's unlikely you'll be able to find private insurance.
Your drunken driving conviction will affect your insurance rates for years to come. Usually, a drunken driving accident or criminal conviction won't be taken off your record until Jan. 1 of the fourth year following the incident, says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.
In addition to a jump in auto insurance rates, many drivers are surprised to discover their health insurance and life insurance premiums also increase after a drunken driving conviction, says Steve Oberman, a Tennessee criminal defense lawyer who authored "Drunk Driving Defense." If you don't already have health or life insurance coverage, he adds, both can be harder to get post-conviction.
After a drunken driving conviction, all but six states -- Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania -- require monitoring of your auto insurance coverage to make sure it stays in effect. If you live in a state that requires it, you'll have to file form SR-22 as proof of insurance. If your insurance expires, your state may suspend or revoke your driver's license.
If you have insurance at the time of your conviction, your current insurer may drop you. If this happens, don't assume you must turn to your state's high-risk pool. Shop around first -- Martin says price competitiveness among insurers has brought rates down to where you might find a better deal with a private insurer.