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How a DUI Conviction Can Affect Insurance Rates in Washington

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Jan 26, 2016 | 0 Comments

In 1906, New Jersey created the first drunk driving law on record, penalizing someone caught behind the wheel while intoxicated with a 60 day jail sentence and a $500 fine. Today, 110 years later, every state has unique laws relating to drunk driving with some states having stricter penalties than others. For those found drinking behind the wheel in Washington, our state is in the top 10 as one of the most strict states in terms of harshness of penalties. From jail time to license suspension and possible probation, many facing a DUI charge become overwhelmed; however, one by-product of a DUI that is often overlooked is the expense… and I'm not talking about fines and lawyer fees. If convicted of drunk driving, an insurance company will typically raise auto insurance rates for the driver -- even though higher insurance rates are not a statutory punishment (such as jail time, probation, and fines).

For a first-time DUI offense in the State of Washington, a driver is looking at fines that range from a minimum of $865.50 and a maximum of $5,000.00. These fees remain steady with each additional offense up to a driver's third offense, with the maximum hovering at $5,000 and the minimum never rising above $2,000.00. Some other unaccounted expenses include alcohol education fees, lost wages, and attorney's fees -- all a one-time expense. While all these costs can surely add up, the biggest unaccounted for long-term expense is insurance rate increases.

An auto insurance policy is a contractual agreement between you and your insurance company -- the company agrees to insure you at a certain price based on your potential risk as a driver.  Insurance companies that evaluate your risk have discretion to assign weight to various metrics concerning your driving ability -- a DUI being only one component of that assessment. An insurance company can raise your rates, mandate that you purchase “high risk” insurance, or drop your coverage altogether after news of a DUI comes across their desk. Still, each insurance company is different and how they interpret your driving record with or without a DUI is subjective. Some insurance companies rank a DUI citation as less of a risk than someone who's found at-fault in an accident. Still, after being charged with a DUI, a driver will most likely see a drastic increase in their annual car insurance premiums.

What is the average insurance rate increase caused by a DUI charge?

A study by Nerdwallet -- a personal finance website -- has estimated the financial damage from a DUI concerning the increases in insurance rates that follow a DUI conviction.  A driver convicted of a DUI will experience reverberations of insurance increases for five years after they have received the DUI. In the course of five years, a driver who has a DUI conviction will pay more than double the initial fine due to the insurance premium increases. That means if the original fine is $940.50, a driver will pay $2,334.01 in insurance premiums.  According to Nerdwallet, “the true cost of a first-time DUI for Washington drivers is between $6,574.51 and $10,634.01; 6.9 and 2.1 times the initial fines respectively.”  That being said, a driver's car insurance will increase by 54.24% after receiving a DUI conviction.

Ways to reduce insurance expenses after a DUI conviction.

If you are facing a DUI judgment, the best approach to keep your insurance rates low is to search around for quotes from a variety of different insurance companies. Depending on where in Washington you live, and the factors that surround your driving records, shopping around for different quotes is the only way to truly see what rates you will receive given your new situation. Quotes will help you understand the range of rates you will be working with -- allowing you to eliminate -- or at least mitigate -- insurance companies charging extremely high premiums. Often the larger companies will give you the cheapest rates; however, shopping local can sometimes be a better option. Some local insurance companies even offer breaks on rates for people with DUIs. If you are arrested or charged with a DUI related offense, seeking out an experienced Washington State attorney that specializes in drunk driving violations is an important first step. A knowledgeable and seasoned DUI attorney will not only advise you on the best ways to keep your auto insurance rates from skyrocketing but will also help in mitigating some of the other penalties you may be facing.

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 16 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.

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