How a DUI conviction affects your insurance

If there's anything that could drive your car insurance cost sky-high it's a drunk-driving (DUI) conviction.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, there is an alcohol-related traffic fatality in the United States every 29 minutes. Aside from the risk of killing yourself and others, drunk driving carries with it serious penalties from your car insurance company.

Auto insurance companies may check your motor vehicle record only once every three years or when you're applying for a new policy. It's possible that accidents, tickets and DUIs may never make their way to your official motor vehicle record. However, if your insurer does discover your DUI and classifies you as a "high-risk driver," shopping around at renewal time is the best strategy, as rates will vary greatly among auto insurers. On the other hand, a rate hike may be the least of your problems; your policy could be cancelled or nonrenewed, especially if you are currently in a preferred rate class. Then you'll be forced to look for new car insurance with the double-whammy of a DUI and a cancellation on your record.

A rate hike may be the least of your problems.
Laws regarding DUIs and car insurance coverage vary by state. Most states requires DUI offenders to get a form called an SR-22 from their auto insurers, so you can't hide. This form proves to the DMV that you carry liability insurance and removes your license suspension. An SR-22 also requires your insurance company to notify the DMV if it cancels your auto insurance for any reason. You'll likely have to file proof of insurance for three — sometimes five — years with your state's DMV.

Some car insurance companies don't even offer SR-22 policies, so you may be nonrenewed or cancelled because your company can no longer provide what you need.

Insurers can miss DUI convictions

SR-22 laws
Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania don't require SR-22s, but if you have an SR-22 and then move to one of these states, you must continue to meet the requirements of the SR-22 state where the offense was committed. New York and North Carolina don't require SR-22 filings at all.In some states there is a fee for SR-22s.

Source: Progressive

It's possible that your insurance company will never find out about your DUI conviction if you don't have to get an SR-22. A June 2002 study by the Insurance Research Council revealed that as many as one-quarter of driving convictions never end up on motor vehicle records due to lack of shared information between courts and motor vehicle departments, or because a conviction has been erased through alternative means, such as driving school. If you get your charge reduced in a plea bargain, or have a limited license suspension, such as 30 days, it's also very unlikely your insurer will find out about your conviction.

If your insurance company misses the conviction at the time it happens, it may still have a few years to raise rates if the DUI is discovered later.

Your ultimate destiny rests with your car insurance company.

For example, State Farm's action depends on which subsidiary you're with. The insurer reviews rate-increase decisions on a case-by-case basis. If you have a preferred policy with State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. and receive a DUI, State Farm will likely move you into State Farm Fire & Casualty, which is its standard-policy company for riskier drivers and higher rates.

If you're with Progressive, you will not face nonrenewal or cancellation because of a DUI, but you may face a rate increase. Progressive also reviews rates on a case-by-case basis, with multiple factors such as age, gender, driving history and your vehicle model going into your rate.

It doesn't end there. Your DUI conviction will follow you if you apply for life insurance and could affect your premiums there, too.

Spring cleaning for insurance

While you're doing your spring cleaning this year, keep your eye out for your insurance policies. And when you find them, make some time to give them a good look.

Time to dust off your policies.
Like any other personal finance product, insurance policies need regular review and possible adjustment. Inadequate coverage can lead to major personal financial loss. If you haven't really examined your policies in years, you're not alone. A good insurance review can save you money and possibly head off financial disaster in the event of a loss.

Home insurance

Home insurance savings

Are you getting all the discounts to which you're entitled? If you've recently installed a security alarm, for example, you could save money on your home insurance. Other common discounts go to:

• Customers age 55 and over
• Long-time customers
• Customers who carry auto insurance with the same company
• Disaster-resistant building improvements

April showers bring spring . . . floods. And home insurance doesn't cover flood damage. Flooding can happen any time of year, but spring makes homeowners especially vulnerable. If you're inundated by water due to snow melt, heavy rains or a rising river, you're financially on your own unless you have flood insurance.

Flood insurance policies are available from most home insurers through a program administered by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP has defined specific coverages and rates. Premium estimates and policy details are easy to get from FloodSmart.gov.

Flood insurance can be relatively inexpensive, depending on where you live. For example, a homeowner in a low or moderate risk zone who wants the highest level of structure and contents coverage can choose $250,000 in structure and $100,000 in contents coverage for $1,251 annually; that goes up to $2,462 in high-risk zones and $5,358 in high-risk coastal zones. A variety of lower coverages are available depending on your budget.

If you live a zone judged low to moderate risk, you qualify for a Preferred Risk Policy (PRP). This lets you buy less coverage and save money. A homeowner can purchase a minimum of $20,000 building and $8,000 contents coverage for $112 a year ($25 more if there is a basement). There are flood policies available for renters and businesses, too.

Most Americans neglect to purchase flood protection. Yet your home has a 26 percent chance of flooding as opposed to the 9 percent chance of fire during the course of a typical 30-year mortgage, according to the NFIP. In fact, one-third of claims paid by the NFIP in 2006 were in "low flood risk" communities.

If water is rising around you now, it's too late. Flood insurance has a 30-day waiting period. For more, see Insure.com's flood section.

Are you planning on a spring building project? If you'll be adding an addition or making other major renovations, make sure your insurer updates your structure's relacement coverage amount to reflect new rebuilding costs.

Did you give or receive a special piece of jewelry this Valentine's day? It may be insured against theft only up to $1,000 on your home policy. Valuable items such as jewelry and art need to be "scheduled" separately in order to be fully insured.

On the other hand, if you've been paying for a $5,000 floater on a fur coat that's no longer worth that, cancel your floater and save yourself the money.

Shhh, do you hear that sound? Probably not. That's insurance companies quietly adding percentage-based deductibles to new and renewed home insurance policies in some areas of the country. In case of loss, you wouldn't pay the $500 or $1,000 deductible you originally signed up for; you'd pay 1 to 5 percent of your house-coverage amount before insurance kicks in.

Residents of hurricane and flood-prone regions like Texas and Florida are now familiar with percentage-based deductibles, as insurers seek to shift more of the claims burden to homeowners. But East Coast residents, where windstorms and hurricanes can also take their toll, don't have the same level of awareness. You and your neighbors may already have a percentage-based deductible in place and not know it.

If disaster did strike your home, would you be able to give your insurance adjuster a complete list of your possessions? Videotaping the contents of each room is one easy way to make a record of your belongings. Another convenient way is to use the free "Know Your Stuff" home-inventory software provided by the Insurance Information Institute.

Auto insurance

Auto insurance savings

Can you squeeze any other discounts out of your auto policy? See if you qualify for discounts on:
• Antilock brakes
• Low-mileage usage
• Air bags and other safety features
• Your good driving record or age (50 and up)

You can't control spiraling gas prices at the pump, but you can control your auto insurance costs. If your car is getting on in years, it might not be worth it to continue paying for collision and comprehensive coverages. Check your car's current used value and decide if the premiums are worth what you'd get back in the event your car is totaled or stolen.

Or, consider raising your deductible amount in order to lower your premiums, if you are able to pay a higher deductible out of pocket if needed.

Life insurance

Life insurance savings

If you're shopping for a new policy:

• Comparison shop online
• Consider term life as a way to get the most coverage for your dollar
• Improve your health before you're underwritten
• Keep a good credit rating, which can affect your premium rate
• Look at prices of "low-load" policies that are sold directly from life insurers.

If you already have a policy:
• Pay annually rather than monthly for overall lower premiums
• If you need to increase your life insurance, look at the cost of adding a rider to your current policy vs. buying another policy
• If your health has improved significantly since you purchased your policy, you may be able to have your premium rate adjusted to reflect your new underwriting category.

Probably no other insurance policy deserves more regular attention than your life insurance policy. After all, lifestyle changes impact your need for life insurance: marriage or divorce, new babies, new debts, paid-off debts or children graduating from college can make your coverage needs rise or fall.

Insure.com's Life Insurance Needs Estimator Tool can help you pinpoint your current recommended coverage amount.

If you have term life insurance, are you keeping track of when your policy expires? If it's been a while since you bought a 15-year term policy, it's time to start making plans for coverage beyond that point.

It's not just your policy that needs a look. How about your insurer? Is it financially healthy? Financial strength ratings are crucial for evaluating life insurers. Find out your company's Standard & Poor's rating with Insure.com's Insurance Company Ratings Lookup Tool.

Overlooked but important coverage

One of the most valuable coverages is disability insurance, which pays up to 60 percent of your income if you become disabled and cannot work. According to the Social Security Administration, a 20-year-old worker has a 3-in-10 chance of becoming disabled before retirement age. Disability insurance is most affordable when purchased through a group policy at work; another good way is to add a disability rider to your life insurance. Individual stand-alone policies are also available.

2008 winners of Top Safety Pick award — number of winners increases; pickups eligible

ARLINGTON, VA —Thirty-four vehicles earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick award for 2008. The award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on ratings in the Institute's tests. Winners also have to be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC), which research shows can significantly reduce the risk of crashing.

Compared with last year, automakers have more than doubled the number of vehicles that meet criteria for Top Safety Pick. At the beginning of the 2007 model year, 13 models qualified, but as manufacturers have made changes and introduced new and safer vehicle designs, 10 additional vehicles qualified during the year.

Now another 11 vehicles are being added to the list for 2008. Designating winners based on the tests makes it easier for consumers to identify vehicles that afford the best overall protection without sifting through multiple sets of comparative crash test results.

"For 2008, consumers have the widest selection of vehicles they've ever had that afford the best protection in the most common kinds of crashes," says Institute president Adrian Lund. Front and side impacts are the most common kinds of fatal crashes, killing nearly 25,000 of the 31,000 vehicle occupants who died in 2005. Rear-end crashes usually aren't fatal, but they result in a large proportion of the injuries that occur in crashes. About 60 percent of insurance injury claims in 2002 reported minor neck sprains and strains.

All current car and minivan models, small and midsize SUVs, and small and large pickup trucks are eligible to win Top Safety Pick. Eight vehicles from Ford and its subsidiary, Volvo, make the list of winners for 2008. Seven winners are from Honda and its subsidiary, Acura.

Winners have features that help avoid crashes: The Institute added a crash prevention criterion last year to earn Top Safety Pick. Winning vehicles have to be equipped with ESC, which can help drivers avoid crashes altogether. ESC is a control system comprised of sensors and a microcomputer that continuously monitors how well a vehicle responds to a driver's steering input and selectively applies the vehicle brakes and modulates engine power to keep the vehicle traveling along the path indicated by the steering wheel position. This technology helps prevent sideways skidding and loss of control that can lead to rollovers. ESC can help drivers maintain control during emergency maneuvers when their vehicles otherwise might spin out.

"Vehicles should be designed to provide good occupant protection when crashes occur, but now with ESC we have the possibility of preventing many crashes altogether," Lund says. "If all vehicles were equipped with ESC, as many as 10,000 fatal crashes could be avoided each year." Institute research indicates that ESC reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle crashes by 56 percent and fatal multiple-vehicle crashes by 32 percent. Many single-vehicle crashes involve rolling over, and ESC reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle rollovers by 80 percent (SUVs) and 77 percent (cars).

For first time pickups are eligible: Pickup trucks haven't been eligible to win Top Safety Pick until now because the Institute hadn't begun side testing them. The Toyota Tundra is first to qualify. Pickups aren't as likely as cars or SUVs to have side airbags or ESC, and Toyota has made these features standard in the Tundra.

"Pickups are among the top selling vehicles in the United States," Lund points out. "They're also more likely than in the past to be used as family vehicles, so equipping them with the latest safety features is important."

Protection in rear impacts improves: Crash tests have driven major improvements in the designs of all kinds and sizes of passenger vehicles. The Institute began frontal crash tests for consumer information in 1995. Side tests were added in 2003 and rear tests in 2004. Most vehicles now earn good ratings in the frontal test, but significant differences still are apparent in vehicle performance in side and rear tests.

Some manufacturers have been working to improve the ratings of their vehicles in the rear test. For example, the seat/head restraints in the Honda Accord, Element, and Odyssey as well as the BMW X3 and X5 are rated good compared with previous designs that were rated marginal or poor. Audi improved the design of seat/head restraints in the A3 from acceptable to good. Another 23 vehicles would have won 2008 awards if they had good seat/head restraint designs. Toyota could have claimed 10 more awards, including 3 for Lexus models. Nissan and Volkswagen could have picked up 4 awards apiece.

Another area where safety is improving is occupant protection in side impacts. More 2008 model vehicles include as standard equipment side airbags designed to protect people's heads. The Saturn was side tested twice. In the first test, the side curtain airbag didn't deploy properly, and the head of the dummy positioned in the back seat was struck by the sill of the window in the door. This impact didn't produce high head injury measures, but head protection was inadequate. In response, General Motors redesigned the side curtain airbag to ensure more rapid inflation and better coverage of the airbag next to the dummy's head. In the second test, the fix was successful, and the VUE's side rating improved from acceptable to good. Top Safety Pick applies to VUEs built after December 2007.

Each year, the Institute offers to test Top Safety Pick candidates early in the model year. The policy is for manufacturers to reimburse the Institute for the cost of vehicles if the tests aren't part of the group's regular schedule. Top Safety Pick is presented by vehicle size because size and weight are closely related, and both influence how well occupants will be protected in serious crashes. Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford better protection in crashes than smaller, lighter ones.

How the vehicles are evaluated: The Institute's frontal crashworthiness evaluations are based on results of frontal offset crash tests at 40 mph. Each vehicle's overall evaluation is based on measurements of intrusion into the occupant compartment, injury measures from a Hybrid III dummy in the driver seat, and analysis of slow-motion film to assess how well the restraint system controlled dummy movement during the test.

Each vehicle's overall side evaluation is based on performance in a crash test in which the side of the vehicle is struck by a barrier moving at 31 mph that represents the front end of a pickup or SUV. Ratings reflect injury measures recorded on two instrumented SID-IIs dummies, assessment of head protection countermeasures, and the vehicle's structural performance during the impact. Injury measures obtained from the two dummies, one in the driver seat and the other in the back seat behind the driver, are used to determine the likelihood that a driver and/or passenger in a real-world crash would have sustained serious injury. The movements and contacts of the dummies' heads during the crash also are evaluated. Structural performance is based on measurements indicating the amount of B-pillar intrusion into the occupant compartment.

Rear crash protection is rated according to a two-step procedure. Starting points for the ratings are measurements of head restraint geometry — the height of a restraint and its horizontal distance behind the back of the head of an average-size man. Seats with good or acceptable restraint geometry are tested dynamically using a dummy that measures forces on the neck. This test simulates a collision in which a stationary vehicle is struck in the rear at 20 mph. Seats without good or acceptable geometry are rated poor overall because they can't be positioned to protect many people


Midsize cars
Audi A3
Honda Accord

Small car
Subaru Impreza equipped with optional electronic stability control

Honda Odyssey

Midsize SUVs
Hyundai Veracruz built after August 2007
Saturn VUE built after December 2007
Toyota Highlander

Small SUV
Honda Element

Large pickup
Toyota Tundra


Large cars
Audi A6
Ford Taurus with optional electronic stability control
Mercury Sable with optional electronic stability control
Volvo S80

Midsize cars
Audi A3, A4
Honda Accord
Saab 9-3
Subaru Legacy with optional electronic stability control

Midsize convertibles
Saab 9-3
Volvo C70

Small car
Subaru Impreza with optional electronic stability control

Honda Odyssey
Hyundai Entourage
Kia Sedona

Midsize SUVs
Acura MDX, RDX
BMW X3, X5
Ford Edge, Taurus X
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Veracruz built after August 2007
Lincoln MKX
Mercedes M class
Saturn VUE built after December 2007
Subaru Tribeca
Toyota Highlander
Volvo XC90

Small SUVs
Honda CR-V, Element
Subaru Forester with optional electronic stability control

Large pickup
Toyota Tundra


Twenty-three vehicles earn good ratings in front and side crash tests. They have ESC, standard or optional. They would be 2008 Top Safety Pick winners if their seat/head restraints also earned good ratings:

Acura RL, TL
BMW 3 series
Chrysler Sebring convertible
Infiniti M35/M45
Kia Amanti
Lexus IS 250/350, ES 350, GS 350/460
Nissan Pathfinder, Xterra both with optional side airbags
Nissan Quest
Toyota Avalon, Camry, FJ Cruiser, 4Runner, Prius, RAV4, and Sienna
Volkswagen Eos, Jetta, Passat, Rabbit