DUI vs DWI and impact on auto insurance rates

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It’s easy to confuse a DUI with DWI, as the exact definition may vary by state. But both are serious traffic violations that can have a huge effect on your auto insurance. Driving under the influence and driving while impaired or intoxicated will end up imposing a financial burden, no matter what the acronym stands for.

“Insurers’ prices based on your driving records, so if you have any accidents or motor vehicle offenses you will pay more,” says Birny Birnbaum, insurance expert and executive director of the Center for Economic Justice, a consumer advocacy group.

Getting caught while intoxicated or impaired while driving can increase your rate an average of $ 800 per year, according to a Martindale-Nolo Research survey.

Not only can this increase your auto insurance premium, it also puts you and others on the road at risk, with additional financial and legal consequences. The same survey found that the overall average cost of a first-time DUI is $ 6,500.

Let’s take a look at the differences between a DUI and a DWI in general – and how it can affect your car insurance.


Because there is no nationwide definition, each state has its own set of laws and terms for DWIs and DUIs. Some see DWI and DUI as one and the same, while other states define them as two separate violations.

In general, DUI stands for “driving under the influence”. In other words, a driver with a certain level of alcohol in the blood can be charged with driving while intoxicated.

The federal government’s blood alcohol content (BAC) limit is 0.08%, but different states have different limits for their legal blood alcohol levels. For example, New Jersey will charge a driver with a DUI if their blood alcohol level is over 0.01% and they are under the age of 21. In some cases, you could be charged with a DUI or DWI if you fail a field sobriety test, even with a blood alcohol level below the state legal limit.

DWI generally stands for “impaired driving”, but some states define it as “impaired driving”. If this is the case where you live then there is no difference between a DUI and DWI. But if your state recognizes DWI as a different violation, then it generally refers to driving while under the influence of drugs, whether prescribed or recreational.

How Does a DWI or DUI Affect Your Car Insurance?

Regardless of specific definitions, an impaired driving or DWI charge means that a person exhibited risky and dangerous behavior while driving. And auto insurance companies don’t like it.

Here are some ways that a DWI or DUI affects your auto insurance.

Your rates will likely increase

If you have all three of these letters on your driving record, insurers are more likely to consider you a high risk driver, and your auto insurance rates could increase dramatically.

The amount of your premium increase will depend on your insurer and location, but expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars more than usual.

“We want a rating system that not only encourages consumers to drive safely and avoid risky behavior, but also gives them clear price signals on how to invest in safety,” says Birnbaum.

Pro tip

If you’ve been convicted of a DUI or DWI, consider speaking to an independent insurance agent rather than dealing directly with your insurer. An independent insurance agent can give you advice on how to lower your auto premium without affecting your policy.

Your insurer could let you down

Your insurer can’t legally cancel your policy when they want to, but that’s another story when it’s time to renew your policy. If you have been charged with a DWI or DUI, your insurance could refuse to keep you as a client once your current policy expires, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Next, you’ll need to find another auto insurance company that is willing to insure you with a DUI on your record – but your rates will likely go up no matter who provides your auto coverage.

You may need to file an SR-22, FR-44 or FR-19

Following a serious traffic violation, such as DUI or DWI, your state may require you to complete a specific form before you are allowed to return to the road. SR-22, FR-44, and FR-19, for example, prove to your state’s transportation agency that you have enough auto insurance to drive safely. These forms are primarily intended for high risk drivers and are usually filed by the insurance company or agency on your behalf.

You might have higher premiums for a while

You could have an increased premium for several years, depending on where you live and your insurance company. In some states, your premium will remain inflated as long as a DUI or DWI remains on your driving record.

Check your state’s laws to see how long a DUI can stay on your driving record, and ask your insurer for the analysis period for driving records. Typically, a DUI drops your driving record after five years, but it can take longer, maybe 10 years or more. Some states like Texas and Oregon will keep it on file forever.

But as long as you practice safe driving in the years following a DUI or DWI, you will eventually see your rates come down.

“You want your premiums to be not only fair,” says Birnbaum, “but they should also encourage consumers to drive safely. “

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