Behind the Wheel with a Beer: Are You Covered?

Written by Andrew Freiburghouse on February 3, 2010 & Posted in Auto Insurance

Back in the day, when somebody said, "I'll have one for the road," they meant that literally. You could drink while driving home and that was more or less acceptable behavior. While that's definitely NOT the case today, that doesn't mean you won't see someone braving the freeway with a can of Coors Light or a flask of Jack Daniels firmly in hand. If you find yourself in an accident while under the influence of alcohol, first of all, let's hope everyone's OK. Second, it's time to think coverage. Will your car insurance cover the damages, or are you out of luck in more ways than one?

Alcohol Exclusion Laws and Car Insurance
Twenty eight states have explicit alcohol exclusion laws on the books, including California and New York. Nine other states implicitly allow alcohol exclusions. Alcohol exclusion laws enable car insurance companies to deny coverage for alcohol-related accidents.

If you're in one of the 37 states that support alcohol exclusion laws, you need to understand that if you drink and drive, you're driving without insurance. (You can check your state's status at

Ironically, many of the major anti-drunk driving organizations oppose alcohol exclusion laws because they discourage doctors and hospitals from checking for blood alcohol content when treating injured patients--allowing intoxicated drivers to go undetected. Why? Because if alcohol is found, car insurance companies can refuse to pay the hospitals for care rendered--costing hospitals dearly, from California to New York.

Insurance Investigators Will Have Questions for You
Your car insurance provider, after the police have their turn, will ask you a series of questions about your run-in with the tree. These typically include:

? What were you doing immediately before the accident?
? What is your history related to alcohol and drugs?
? Who were you with before this accident happened?

These questions are designed to answer the fundamental question that affects everything else: Were you over the limit when this accident occurred? If you were, the car insurance company may be legally entitled to refuse coverage for the incident. Your decision to drive drunk effectively voids your car insurance policy

Car Insurance Companies Don't Like Drinking and Driving
In fact, you can void your car insurance policy before you even get into your car. If you are over 0.08 percent blood alcohol content, then you are legally drunk, and driving is a crime to begin with. Count on no coverage.

If you are under the age of 21, then you are breaking the law by even drinking alcohol, let alone driving drunk. Count on no coverage. The insurance companies are against drinking and driving, and vote with their pocketbooks--by closing them up when it's time to pay alcohol-related claims.

Sobering Facts
An alcohol-related traffic fatality occurs every 40 minutes. More than 1.4 million drivers were arrested in 2007 for driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Servers of alcohol, such as bartenders, can be held legally liable for your drunk driving in 43 states.

Not to mention what a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) conviction can do to your insurance situation, sending your rates sky-high or even causing the cancellation of your policy.

Those facts should sober you up if the tree didn't.

Insurance Information Institute

About the Author

Andrew Freiburghouse is a writer and businessman. As a partner at Los Angeles tax preparation firm Pronto Income Tax of California, Inc., Andrew has served thousands of clients both face to face and over the telephone. Currently, Andrew lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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