Tighter DUI rules could be costly

Des Toups


Managing Editor

Portable breathalyzerIf the National Transportation Safety Board has its way, there will be a lot more drunks on the road.

The federal safety regulator has recommended that states lower their legal standards for a drunken-driving conviction to 0.05 percent, a third lower than the current blood-alcohol threshold of 0.08 percent.

The proposal faces stiff opposition from the beverage industry, which says it criminalizes reasonable behavior, and it gets no love from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), either, which says the effort might be better spent elsewhere. About 10,000 people a year die in car crashes blamed on drunken driving, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says. That’s half the number who died in 1983, shortly after MADD was founded.

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The Justice Department says 1.4 million drivers were arrested on DUI charges in 2010. Surveys have found that’s only a fraction of the number of drivers who admit drinking but weren’t caught.

The standard in England, Germany and most industrialized countries is 0.05 percent. A 160-pound man could hit that limit in two beers over an hour; a 120-pound woman in a single Manhattan.

The $10,000 cocktail

A driving while intoxicated conviction is a nuclear bomb for car insurance rates.

For example, a 40-year-old male driving a 2010 Ford Fusion in Oakland, Calif., would pay about $1,445 a year for full coverage if he had a clean driving record. The cheapest rate we found with a non-accident DUI was $3,962 -- a difference of about $2,500 a year.

Every state has its own rules regarding how long a DUI conviction stays on your motor vehicle record -- in many it’s for life -- and each insurance company decides how far to look back when it calculates your rates. Even in the best case the surcharge usually stretches for three long years.

On top of that, you’ll usually lose any good driver discount you may have had (not as far-fetched as it may seem, since the lower standard is likely to capture a social drinker). In California, for example, a discount of 20 percent is required by state law for those with one point or less on their licenses.

In addition, depending on the state, the drunken driver will have to pay a fine, may serve some jail time, may be required to install an ignition interlock at $50 to $100 a month, and may face a yearly state surcharge to renew his or her driver’s license. (You can see state penalties under the current 0.08 percent threshold with our What's Your Limit calculator.)

We estimate a first-time DUI conviction costs a driver $10,000.

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