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What a DUI Means for You and Your Car Insurance

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There’s no way around it – a DUI will have a negative effect on your auto insurance rates. Conventional wisdom in the insurance industry says that maintaining a clean driving record is the best way to keep your auto insurance premiums low, but life can throw any number of curve balls at you.

The occasional traffic ticket may bump your premium up slightly. But getting charged with a DUI for driving drunk or high is a quick way to wreck your rates for a long time.

If you’re convicted of a DUI, you can expect your car insurance rates to go up by about 80% afterwards, although the increase may be higher or lower depending on where you live and whether you are a repeat offender. Some insurers may even deny coverage outright.

These repercussions are meant to minimize the dangers that DUIs present. In 2019, 10,142 people died in alcohol-related crashes, and these deaths accounted for 28% of all crash fatalities, according to DUI reports from the National Highway Safety and Transportation Authority.

DUIs are a widespread issue, and criminal charges and insurance penalties are meant to discourage the tendency. In 2019, over 1 million people were arrested on DUI charges, according to DUI statistics from the FBI.

Your Questions on DUIs Answered

What’s a DUI Exactly?

DUI stands for driving under the influence — with DUI meaning the influence of drugs or alcohol — whereas DWI means driving while intoxicated. Some states just use one of the two terms to describe a drunken driving offense, while others use both to differentiate between drug and alcohol charges. But whether it’s called a DWI vs. DUI, either one carries the same serious penalties.

What’s the Difference Between a DUI and an OWI?

Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts refer to an impaired driving charge as an OWI, which stands for operating under the influence.

What’s a DUI Charge?

A DUI charge comes with much stiffer consequences than a traffic ticket. DUIs are considered criminal, as opposed to civil traffic offenses. The driver will be placed under arrest instead of merely issued a citation. Fines for a DUI tend to be much higher than ticket costs for other moving violations. A DUI could even put a damper on travel plans, as some countries — including Canada and Mexico— may deny entry to travelers who have had a DUI in the past 10 years. DUI travel restrictions differ from country to country, so it’s a good idea to apply for a travel waiver to gain security clearance if you have a DUI.

What’s a DUI Checkpoint?

In several states, law enforcement agencies periodically set up sobriety checkpoints where they stop vehicles at random to test drivers for intoxication. Officers often set up checkpoints late at night and in areas near bars and events serving alcohol.

If you get pulled over for a sobriety test, the police may ask you to take what is known as a chemical test for DUI. A portable breathalyzer is the most common type of chemical DUI test, and police can use these tests to prove probable cause for an arrest.

A DUI urine test is another way police can check a person’s alcohol consumption, although it may not be as accurate since it takes a long time to digest alcohol. The test may detect alcohol consumed hours or days earlier, and it may not indicate the precise levels of alcohol in the driver’s system when the person was driving.

What’s a High BAC for a DUI?

Under federal law in the U.S., it’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. But DUI zero tolerance laws — which govern intoxication levels for anyone who gets a DUI under 21 — vary from state to state. Many states set their zero-tolerance BAC level at .02%, while several others set it at .00%. Several states also imposed enhanced penalties for BAC levels at .15% and higher.

What Happens When You Get a DUI?

If you get arrested for impaired driving and charged with a DUI, you will have to appear in court and enter a plea before a judge. Hiring an experienced DUI attorney, a lawyer who specializes in impaired driving cases, may help you avoid a DUI trial or a stiff DUI sentence. If your DUI case is dismissed, the charges will be dropped, and your record will be clean of a conviction.

Many states enforce DUI “per se” laws, which allow the DMV to automatically suspend driving privileges even before you appear in court. If you’re arrested for driving under the influence after meeting the BAC threshold or refusing a breathalyzer test, you could lose driving privileges for a set period in these states. If this happens to you, you can fight the charge at what is known as an administrative hearing for a DUI. Here again, a DUI attorney can help you defend your case.

After a DUI conviction, a judge may order you to attend a “DUI treatment program” or “DUI school.” Although referred to as DUI programs, these education and rehabilitation programs are available to anyone coping with alcohol or drug problems.

What Are the Penalties for a DUI?

So, is a DUI a felony? For a first or even second DUI conviction, the offense is usually considered a misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of a maximum of one year in jail and a temporary license suspension. The cost of a DUI is up to $1,000 in fines for a misdemeanor charge.

But for a third or subsequent repeat conviction of DUI, the motorist will likely face felony charges. A felony DUI carries a penalty of one or more years in jail or prison and thousands of dollars in fines. A felony DUI conviction may also result in a loss of voting rights and a longer license suspension period, or a revoked license. Penalties will be even more severe if the DUI resulted in property damage, injury or death.

If you get a DUI while on probation, the DUI will likely be considered a probation violation, meaning you could get sent back to prison.

Once you’ve been convicted of driving under the influence, DUI records will stay with you for three to five years in most states, but some states like California will keep a DUI on your driving record for up to a decade. In the meantime, you can expect to start paying much higher rates for your insurance.

How much your rates go up after a DUI depends on several factors, including your age, your insurer, where you live, the circumstances of your arrest and driving history. Comparing auto insurance quotes and re-shopping your insurance will help you find the best rates.

How to Avoid a DUI in the First Place

Alcohol is almost everywhere people socialize, from bars to gatherings with friends or family. Avoiding a DUI in the first place takes some awareness around the issue, which starts with knowing the consequences.

Be aware that a DUI can strike anytime, even if you get pulled over for a completely unrelated reason. It is best to have a designated driver, or use ride services like Uber or Lyft if you are going to be out drinking. If you’re with family, get a family member to take you home if you’re feeling even the slightest bit tipsy.

Anything is better than putting yourself, your family, friends, and other drivers at risk. You also don’t want a DUI hanging over your head in the best case scenario!

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