Letting a teenager drive is scary enough for any parent. Add in the parents’ car that the teen is driving on the family’s auto insurance policy, and you might not get any sleep at night. Throw in a DUI, and it’s a nightmare.
A DUI or DWI — police terms for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated — is a “scarlet letter” to auto insurers, says Troy Thompson, owner of Pinnacle Insurance Agency in Coon Rapids, Minn. Half of the companies Thompson works with will drop an entire family if their teen has a DUI, he says.
“They don’t want to be anywhere near someone in a household with a DUI,” Thompson says.
If an insurer does keep the family policy, parents with such a teen will likely see their rates double or triple, he says.
Two types of policies
A teen’s auto insurance rate depends on whose policy they’re on — their own or their parents — and if the teen owns a car. Using a parent’s car on a family auto insurance policy is a lot cheaper than doing it on your own.
A family policy can cost about $100 per month and will rise to $200 after a DUI, while a teen with their own policy will pay up to $500 per month and could see their rate go up to $800 per month, Thompson says. “No policy is cheap when you have a 16-year-old,” he says.
When the teen turns 18, they can stay on the parents’ policy as long as they live in the house, he says. But after moving out or having a vehicle in their name, they must have their own insurance, he says.
If the teen has their own insurance policy because they own a car that’s in their name, then they’ll face an “astronomical” rate increase after a DUI, Thompson says. Families and insurance agents don’t always put a car that’s in a kid’s name on the kid’s insurance policy, he says, but it should be.
"You can’t insure somebody else’s vehicle if you don’t have any skin in the game with that vehicle,” Thompson says, meaning your name on the title.
An easy solution: Don’t let teens drive your car
The best course for parents to avoid a teen’s DUI from affecting their insurance premium on the family car is to not have the teen on their policy, says John R. O’Brien, a Chicago attorney who has represented DUI defendants. The teens can still drive the family car, and the family's insurance policy will cover them as it would anyone who drivers it with the owner's permission, O'Brien says. The teens' driving records won't impact the parents' premiums, he says.
“Parents are routinely talked into putting their teen drivers on the policy for the family car by agents who get commissions based on the amount of the premium paid — which goes up dramatically when a teen driver is added,” O’Brien says. That money would better be spend on their kids’ education, he says.
Other expensive problems after DUI
Higher insurance rates are just the start of a teen’s problems for driving drunk. California, for example, has a “zero tolerance” law that forbids anyone under 21 from driving with a blood alcohol level of .01 percent or greater, says Christopher McCann, a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. It can be charged as an infraction with a $70 fine and up to $400 in penalty assessments.
That can lead to the Department of Motor Vehicles suspending a teen’s driver’s license for one year, or delayed for a year if they haven’t applied for it yet, McCann says. The court may order the teen to participate in an alcohol program.
With higher blood alcohol levels of .05 percent or more, a teen can also be fined $100 and face $500 in penalties.
When the blood alcohol level reaches .08 percent or more, whether a teen or adult, the penalty in California for a DUI conviction includes three years of informal probation, $2,000 in fines and penalties, completion of a 30-hour DUI program costing $500, and up to six months in jail, McCann says. Most offenders aren’t jailed, he says, but may perform community service. Teens may be ordered to attend “scared straight” programs at the county morgue and hospital.
A DUI conviction in California will also lead to two points on a driving record. DUI offenders under 18 may also be ordered to appear in juvenile traffic court with a parent, and while not typically arrested, their car will be impounded and towed, leading to large storage fees, he says.
Teens caught driving drunk are usually released to their parents without bail, but the parent will be ordered to appear in court with the minor, and the parent can be subjected to criminal charges if they fail to do so, McCann says. Failure to comply may lead to the child being removed from their custody.
For teens ages 18-19 who are arrested for DUI, like most adult offenders, they’ll typically be released from jail many hours later after they’ve sobered up without having to post bail, but they’ll have to appear in court later, McCann says. Many counties in California require $2,500 in bail if the offender isn’t released on their own recognizance, he says.
Some good news
There are two ways to get a DUI conviction off an insurance policy: Have the teen move out of the house and get their own insurance, when the parents can prove their child will no longer be driving their car; or waiting five years for the conviction to be removed from their record.
Laws vary by state, and some states allow a DUI conviction to affect sentencing for another crime for up to 20 years. Taking an alcohol education class can help get a DUI removed from a record sooner.
A DUI can also affect the ability to get a job. “Employers can ask for a motor vehicle record, and they definitely will if you have to drive a company car,” says Lisa Radov, owner of Gebco Insurance Associates in Maryland. Teachers can have their teaching license suspended or taken away, or may no longer be able to teach at a public school after getting a DUI, Radov says.
“Getting a DUI can cost you big time, and hurt you with your career,” she says. “It isn’t worth getting in an accident, hurting someone else, or going to jail and getting it on your record while your insurance rates will skyrocket.”
“The lesson here is to just not drive while under the influence and you won’t have to deal with the headache for years of dealing with the consequences,” Radov says.