The DUI Scarlet Letter and Its Impact on Your Car Insurance

By Insurance.com Posted : 03/10/2006

Is Florida going pink? If Florida state Senator Mike Fasano gets his way, many Florida residents just might be. Late last year, Senator Fasano filed a bill that would require DUI offenders to drive with bright pink licenses plates starting with the letters DUI. "Maybe it will embarrass people and keep them from drinking and driving," Fasano said. "Maybe they'll think twice." The proposed bill also has a controversial and unique provision that allows police officers to pull over and check on the driver at any time, without probable cause. If passed, Florida will join Ohio, Iowa and Minnesota, all with similar special license plate laws in place.

Currently, Ohio has one of the strictest DUI laws in the country. Ohio DUI offenders are issued yellow plates with crimson serial numbers. These plates are issued at a judge's discretion to people with more than one DUI conviction and restricted driving privileges. Many feel this punishment is a public shaming tactic, similar to that of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel "The Scarlet Letter," which is about a woman ordered to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her chest as punishment for adultery. In Iowa, DUI offenders' plates contain the letter "Z", Minnesota's plates bear a unique series of numbers and in Oregon, drunk drivers are required to display a sticker on their license plates.

And how well does this law really work? Only a few studies on effectiveness have been conducted to date but one Oregon study showed that offenders in Oregon who had their vehicle plates tagged had lower rates of DUI offenses, moving violations, and repeat DWS offenses than similarly eligible offenders whose vehicle plates were not tagged.

Drunk driving and auto insurance
States are not the only ones cracking down on drunk driving—auto insurance companies are too!

States forbid car insurance companies to deny coverage to policyholders because of race, religion, residence, age or occupation. However, they can cancel your policy for reasons such as:

  • Driver's license suspensions
  • Excessive traffic violations
  • Felony, criminal negligence or DUI convictions

Auto insurance companies generally deal with convicted DUI customers by raising rates or cancelling or not renewing policies.

If you have multiple traffic convictions or a serious offense like a DUI, you will more than likely have to maintain proof of insurance for three, or sometimes five, years with your state's department of motor vehicles. In addition, to remove your license suspension, your insurance company will be required to provide the DMV with an SR-22 form, which notifies the state of your proof of insurance. An SR-22 also means your insurance company is required to notify the DMV if it cancels your insurance for any reason.

Most states require convicted drunk drivers to get an SR-22 from their insurance agency, so in most instances your insurance company will find out about your conviction. The SR-22 requirement signals a status change to the high-risk driver category, and can trigger your car insurance company to cancel your policy mid-term or not renew your policy at the end of the term. However, your insurance company is legally required to send you a letter stating why you've been canceled or not renewed. Then it is up to you to try to find another car insurance company who will accept your new high-risk and cancellation classifications.

Even if your auto insurance company doesn't cancel your policy, not every company offers SR-22 policies, so you may have to look for a new company no matter what.

Also keep in mind that your insurance company has up to three years to cancel your policy or raise your rates because of a DUI, and that other companies can refuse to provide you with car insurance for up to five years after a DUI or other violation.

With just a single citation, states can require the completion of a Defensive Driving Course. These courses review the rules of the road, the effects alcohol, drugs, and sleep deprivation can have on a driver and safe driving techniques. While insurance discounts may be available to course graduates, many students use the course to get their license back.

The best thing you can do is to avoid getting a DUI.  Learn how to calculate your DUI limit and party responsibly.

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