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What Happens to My Car Insurance After a DUI?

Clients accused of OVI or DUI in Columbus, Ohio often have questions about their insurance and what might happen to their insurance rates. The problem here is that there is no bright line answer. When one buys insurance, they basically enter into a private contract with a private company. The terms of the contract may vary, and the average person (including myself) has not read the small print language in the contract.

The point is that there is no rule or law about what will happen to insurance rates as a result of aDUI charge
or conviction. Insurance companies must simply follow whatever language that’s in the contract. Even then, most won’t know whether the company is following the agreement or not. Most don’t even have a copy of the agreement.

But over the years, I’ve learned a few things about how insurance companies operate. Any traffic accident (irrespective of fault) will probably count as an “incident” against the insured. Too many incidents in a certain period of time will result in higher rates. Beyond that, one or more incidents, combined with something more serious, may result in cancellation of the policy.

Insurance companies are accustomed to seeing DUI charges or related charges. As enforcement increases, there are more and more people charged with DUI. More people are convicted, and more people are trying get insurance with a record.

Certainly a conviction for drunk driving will result in higher renewal rates. The better question is whether a reduction by plea bargain will result in higher rates. We often try to reduce or amend a DUI charge to something else. Many people are familiar with Reckless Operation as a reduction from a drunk driving charge. There are other options.
Ohio law has changed and now includes a charge called Physical Control of a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence. This charge was designed to apply to the person “sleeping it off” in the car where the police could not establish that the person was actually driving (or operating).

There is some debate about whether a Physical Control charge is better than a Reckless Operation charge. There may be no right answer to this. On the one hand, the Physical Control charge actually contains the element of impairment and thus directly reflects an alcohol related incident. But the Reckless Operation charge may not be much better. That charge, by its very definition, reflects reckless driving—a thing abhorred by insurance companies.

Despite this debate, we can’t lose sight of what’s really important. It is always better to have a reduction to a lesser offense, whether physical control or reckless operation or something else. In other words, don’t let the insurance tail wag the dog.

A discussion for another day is “fleet insurance,” commercial drivers, and the unique problems that may apply.

If you have any questions about OVI or DUI charges, contact the offices of Yavitch & Palmer to arrange an appointment with one of our Columbus Ohio DUI Lawyers.

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