A high price to pay: Steep consequences for drunken drivers

Alcohol-impaired accident deaths accounted for 32 percent of all traffic deaths in 2009, according to the Insurance Information Institute. So, it's no surprise that state lawmakers want to make things difficult for repeat and first-time offenders alike.
What can you expect after a drunken driving conviction? Convicted drunken drivers face a flood of financial and personal hardship. Depending on where you live, a drunken driving conviction could bring you fines, jail time, license suspension and even higher auto insurance costs.

Auto insurance consequences
Convicted drunken drivers face serious insurance ramifications. If you're looking to get auto insurance and you have a drunken driving conviction, it's possible you'll be denied coverage. Insurance companies make money by assessing risk. And, if you have a record of posing danger to life and property, you may be a risk that insurers are unwilling to assume, according to Progressive.
Some companies will insure you even if you do have a drunken driving conviction, but you will be charged accordingly. According to Progressive, an SR-22 (a statement of financial responsibility) is required after most drunken driving convictions. An SR-22 acts as proof that you're buying the amount of insurance your state requires -- and having to file one often puts you in a higher risk category. High-risk auto insurance is more expensive, so expect to see your rates increase and remain high for several years after your conviction.
Some states stricter than others
Drunken driving laws vary by state, and some states are trying to ratchet up the consequences.
For instance, ignition interlock devices are mandatory for all convicted drunken drivers in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Utah and Washington, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Nearly every state requires license suspension after a first offense.
Other states are raising the bar in other ways. For example, during the 2011 legislative session in Texas, lawmakers considered requiring DWI offenders to purchase higher amounts of liability insurance. Texas drivers already are required by law to purchase liability insurance in the minimum amounts of $25,000 per person for bodily injury, $50,000 per accident for bodily injury and $25,000 per accident for property damage (also called 25/50/25 coverage). The bill proposed increasing these limits by $30,000 for each conviction for 10 years. House Bill 1020 passed the Texas House before dying in the Senate.
Had the bill passed, these higher liability limits would have hiked the auto insurance premiums of convicted drunken drivers. And these premium increases would have been yet another cost drunken drivers in Texas would have to contend with -- in addition to the punishments that are already established for first-time offenders:

  • $2,000 maximum fine.
  • Suspended driver's license.
  • Fee of $1,000 every year for three years to keep a driver's license.
  • Jail time up to six months.

For repeat offenders in Texas, a DWI conviction can cost you up to $10,000 in fees, up to 10 years in prison, a two-year driver's license suspension and up to $2,000 every year for three years to keep your driver's license, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
Residents of the Lone Star State aren't the only ones who face harsh consequences for driving while intoxicated. Florida is quite unforgiving as well. After being convicted of driving under the influence, your driver's license is revoked for six months to three years, depending on how many times you've been convicted in the past, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Florida law requires drivers to purchase liability insurance in the amounts of $10,000 per person, $20,000 per accident and $10,000 for property damage -- but after the first drunken driving conviction, the minimums shoot up to 100/300/50.

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