Multiple DUIs: Does car insurance punishment fit the crime?

Robert DiGiacomo

Almost everyone knows that drunken driving is a serious offense if you’re caught once. But what happens if you’re caught several times?

The consequences vary from state to state. South Carolina is among the most lenient, in terms of license suspensions, jail time and fines, while Utah and Nebraska offer some of the most stringent laws, according to advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Those who repeatedly get caught driving drunk are likely to lose their driver’s licenses – either temporarily or permanently.

However, a suspension isn’t enough to keep many repeat offenders from getting behind the wheel. According to MADD, 50 percent to 75 percent of convicted drunken drivers with suspended licenses continue to drive.

So if you get more than one drunken driving conviction, what kind of punishment can you expect? And how much will your car insurance suffer?

Loss of license is likely

Whether you lose your license for a first-time drunken driving conviction depends on the state, but if you’re a repeat offender, your chance of getting your license suspended increases.

In California, first-time offenders face a suspension of up to six months for driving under the influence, but it’s possible to obtain permission to drive to and from home and work, and to and from mandatory alcohol education classes, according to Jeremy Goldman, a criminal defense attorney in California.

Convictions also take their toll on the wallet, with court and blood-testing fees, fines and taxes typically adding up to $2,000, Goldman says. Of course, those expenses aren’t covered by your car insurance company.

In Texas, first-time offenders who are convicted of driving while intoxicated will face a license suspension of up to one year, according to Houston criminal defense attorney Grant Scheiner. If you receive probation and you complete a 12-hour alcohol education class within six months, you usually can keep your license, Scheiner says.

Fines in Texas typically start at $2,000 for a first offense and can reach $10,000 for the third offense.

In Florida, first-time offenders face fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 and 50 hours of community service. A first conviction results in a license suspension ranging from a six-month minimum up to one year.

Both New York and Illinois impose even tougher sanctions, with first-time convictions resulting in at least a one-year license suspension and fines ranging up to $2,500.

Will you go to jail?

First-time offenses in California rarely merit jail time, but multiple violations can put offenders behind bars.

But jail time is likely for subsequent offenses, starting at about 60 days for a second offense, if it’s within 10 years of the first, and ranging up to three years for the fourth offense, which can be treated as a felony.

California also leads the country in using murder laws to prosecute drunken drivers. “If someone is educated on the consequences and has a prior DUI and someone is killed as a result, you’ll be charged with second-degree murder,” Goldman says.

In Texas, the first offense could generate up to six months in jail, and the second up to a one-year term, while the third offense becomes a felony and is punishable by two to 10 years in jail, Scheiner says. In Florida, first-time offenders receive no more than six months in jail, while in New York and Illinois the jail time ranges up to one year.

Multiple offenses add up

With each offense in California, the length of the license suspension goes up, with second-time offenders facing a loss of up to two years, and third-time offenders three years. Fourth-time offenders could lose their licenses for life.

For Texans, the second offense could mean a license revocation of up to two years and a maximum $4,000 fine, with an annual fine of $1,500 for three years to retain your driving privileges.

Meanwhile, a second conviction in Florida within five years means a driver will lose his or her license for at least five years, be subject to a fine of $1,000 to $2,000 and a jail term of up to nine months.

Insurance consequences

In California, some insurers will drop clients if they are convicted of DUI. However, some insurers do specialize in high-risk drivers, such as convicted drunken drivers.

Even if your insurer doesn’t drop you after you a drunken driving conviction, your rates could go up, and you could be stuck with these higher rates several years. However, after being off probation for three years, people convicted of drunken driving may be able to get better deals on their insurance, according to Goldman.

In Texas, a first-time DWI conviction will rarely if ever lead to someone being dropped by his or her insurance company, but multiple convictions “can make someone uninsurable,” Scheiner says. However, starting with the first DWI offense, insurance rates will go up; a related accident will drive rates up even more, according to Scheiner.

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