November 17, 2009

Inside Insurance: Drunk drivers on land, in the air, and on the water

By David Colmans

By David Colmans



The guy arrested for drunk driving was traveling on his motorized LazyBoy recliner complete with headlights and, of course, a drink holder. This one-of-a-kind vehicle was powered by a lawnmower engine and likely did not have license plates.

None other than the crew kicked the pilot off the commercial jet since he was apparently intoxicated.

Then there were the 11,773 people who died in alcohol-impaired crashes in 2008. The slightly good news was that fatalities were down 9.7 percent from 13,041 in 2007. The bad news is alcohol-impaired crash fatalities accounted for 32 percent of all crash fatalities in 2008, the third year in a row the figure topped 30 percent.

Pardon the pun, but here’s a sobering statistic. The FBI estimates that 500,000 drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2008. That’s really scary.

At least drunk driving is defined in all states as having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent, and the states all have zero tolerance laws prohibiting drivers under the age of 21 from drinking and driving. In general, the BAC is .02 percent for an arrest.

Here’s something not to be proud of for the female drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported an increasing number of women drove under the influence between 2007 and 2008. While the overall number of drunk driving arrests were down nationwide, the number of impaired women drivers involved in fatal crashes increased in 10 states and remained flat in five others.

Drunk drivers by age group is a hot topic every year. NHTSA reports that the number of people 16 to 20 years old who were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver or motorcycle operator rose 3.9 percent in 2006 compared with the previous year (the latest data available). In the 21 to 34-year-old age group, the number of DUI fatalities rose .7 percent for the same period, while fatalities dropped for all other age groups during the same period.

Here’s something else to keep in mind. Georgia has a statute regarding commercial servers such as bartenders and one for social hosts, but both have limitations. Only Tennessee has a statute regarding commercial servers.

Alabama has statutes for commercial servers and social hosts but there are limitations on the state’s courts. South Carolina, meanwhile, allows for some liability for commercial servers and limitations regarding social servers and guests under 21 years of age.

From an insurance perspective there is nothing but trouble for the intoxicated drivers and their passengers as well as other drivers and passengers involved in a collision.

For the convicted driver, there’s likely to be points on the driving record, possible jail time and an almost certain increase in auto insurance rates or even the insurer’s decision to not renew the auto policy, forcing the motorist to seek insurance with another company at a higher rate or to obtain auto insurance from the state’s insurer of last resort which usually means very high rates.

If a traffic crash is involved there is a high likelihood for resulting injuries, medical expenses, plus the possibility, even likelihood, of one or more lawsuits.

The better alternatives: Call a cab or have a designated driver. A DUI charge is not cool or funny.  



David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or dcolmans@giis.org.