Summer has arrived, and everywhere, people are firing up their grills and enjoying the outdoors and their backyards. The season of long days and long weekends is officially upon us. It’s time to crack open a cold one, kick back, and enjoy, right? If you’re responsible, that’s true, but if you’re not, you could find yourself in serious hot water. We all know not to drink and drive. That’s been drilled into us from a young age. However, do you really know the ramifications of an impaired driving charge? Do you know how being charged with “impaired” might affect your auto insurance?
The Legal Consequences
Before we touch on how an impaired charge will affect your auto insurance, let’s take a brief moment to consider the legal consequences. A charge of “impaired” comes with a heavy burden, even if you are not involved in an accident due to impaired driving. This is particularly true if you’re under the legal drinking age. Ontario has a Zero Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) policy for drivers under the age of 21. According to the Ministry of Transportation, violating the Zero BAC policy will result in an on-the-spot suspension of your license for 24 hours. A conviction of impaired driving will result in a minimum of a 30-day suspension of your license, as well as a fine of $60 to $500. There’s also the possibility that your license will be completely revoked if you are a novice driver. Other possibilities, depending on your BAC and whether this is your first offence, include:
- 90-day license suspension
- Impoundment of your vehicle
- Mandatory attendance of an alcohol education or treatment program
- Up to 120 days in jail (three or more offenses)
- Lifetime license suspension (three or more offenses)
- Ignition interlock device installation on your car (duration ranges from a year to three years, or a lifetime depending on the number of offenses)
The Impact to Your Insurance
Being charged with impaired can result in a lot of legal troubles and can complicate your life in a number of ways. It’s tough to do much of anything if your license is suspended, and the fines alone can be very costly. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. You also have repercussions to deal with involving your auto insurance.
First, there is not one standard charge. Each insurance company, even each individual case, is different.
The best-case scenario after an impaired driving charge is that you’ll see your insurance rates go up. This might be a modest rate hike, or it could be very high. A lot of factors play a role here, including whether or not this was your first offense, your previous driving record, your insurer, whether you were involved in an impair-related accident or not, and many others. However, no matter what, you can plan on your insurance costs going up.
Insurance Coverage Dropped
In a worst-case scenario, you won’t see a rate hike. You’ll see your coverage dropped completely. Insurance companies are businesses, and if you are deemed to be too much of a risk, they will not cover you. Each company has their rates and rules filed with the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO). If you have an impaired driving charge you will have limited options finding an insurance company that will continue to insure you (or take you on as a new client). There are specialty insurers that deal exclusively with drivers convicted of an impaired driving charge and other high-risk drivers, but the rates are far from affordable.
When Will Insurance Rates Return to Normal?
Understand that your impaired charge will never actually “go away”. It is part of your criminal record, and it will follow you for life. However, most insurance companies will reduce your rate back to a normal level after three years with no further mishaps. Of course, this applies to best-case scenarios – a first time offense that resulted in no accidents, for instance, or worse, a fatality.
The more offenses you’ve committed, the less likely an insurance company will be to reduce your rates or even insure you in the first place. The worse the repercussions of your decision to drink and drive, the less likely it is that an insurance company will reduce your rates. However, there is some hope. If you can make it three years without committing another impaired offense, your impaired charge will no longer appear on your Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) through the Ministry of Transportation and no longer visible to the insurance company. To be clear, this does not erase your impaired charge from your criminal record, but it does make it easier to find more affordable auto insurance.
The Best Defence
The single best way to avoid these damaging repercussions is not to drink and drive in the first place. Yes, it’s trite, but you cannot be arrested and convicted for impaired driving if you don’t drink and drive in the first place. If you intend to drink while you’re out, make preparations to get home safely. Have a designated driver. Hire a cab. Call a friend. Use Uber or a similar transportation provider. Find a motel or hotel within walking distance of your preferred watering hole. There are many ways that you can avoid getting behind the wheel when you’ve had too much to drink. In fact, there are so many solutions there that there really is no excuse for drinking and driving in the first place.