Driving Drunk: One of the Most Expensive Mistakes You Can Make

Once you've had your license for a while, it's easy to forget that driving is a dangerous business. Recently, a spate of fatal crashes across the country have drawn renewed attention to the fact that car accidents are the top killer of U.S. teenagers. And for those who drink and drive, the dangers are also incredibly high: in 2011, 31 percent of traffic deaths — and 2.5 percent of deaths overall — were caused by drunk driving.

But even for those who manage to avoid getting into an accident, getting caught driving under the influence can have steep financial consequences. Recent research by CoverHound, a company that compares car insurance rates, revealed the economic costs of drunk driving. According to their findings, insurance premiums go up an average of 86 percent — or $5,130 — in the first year after a DUI. Most of the economic pain from a DUI hits in the first three years, but drivers can expect to pay more for insurance for seven years after a conviction.

That's assuming, of course, that they can still get coverage. «If you get a DUI, some carriers will drop you, and some will increase insurance premiums by 300 percent or even 400 percent,» notes Basil Enan, founder and CEO of CoverHound. «Some carriers refuse to insure anyone who has been convicted of a DUI.»

The effect of a DUI depends a lot on individual circumstances. The age of the driver, his or her prior driving record, and whether or not the DUI was a first offense all factor into the cost. Many insurance companies are more likely to work with younger drivers who have had a DUI, Enan says. There are a few things that drivers can do to limit the price of a DUI. «One option is to take a defensive driving course, which can offset insurance costs by up to 15 percent,» Enan points out. «Another way to save is by downgrading your car to something safer. Put another way, if you're a higher risk driver, it's a good idea to drive a lower risk car.»

But even under the best of circumstances, getting caught driving drunk is sure to increase insurance rates. The only sure way to avoid that is to avoid taking a drink before getting behind the wheel. And, with new smartphone apps to test your sobriety or call you a cab, there's no reason to risk your wallet — or your life.




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