Texas lawmakers want drunken drivers to pay more for insurance

Justin Stoltzfus

Those with driving under the influence (DUI) convictions already pay high fines and see their insurance premium rates spike. But lawmakers in Texas are considering one more expensive consequence. A bill (HB 1020) introduced in February 2011 proposes making drivers with DUI convictions buy more insurance.

All drivers in Texas (and in most other states) are required to buy minimum amounts of liability insurance, which covers any damage and injuries they cause. In Texas, drivers must buy $25,000 of coverage for each injured person, $50,000 of bodily injury coverage per accident and $25,000 for property damage coverage.

If HB 1020 becomes law, drivers with DUI convictions would be required to buy an extra $25,000 worth of coverage per conviction. This means their Texas auto insurance premiums would rise even more.

According to the bill, this penalty would make drunken drivers pay for their increased risk. A DUI conviction indicates an inclination toward risky behavior -- and an increased chance of auto insurance claims. Moreover, all the fines that Texas imposes on drunken drivers won't help their future victims. Raising the minimum auto insurance limits would help ensure that if a driver with a record of drunken driving causes more injuries, victims would have their medical bills covered.

The bill would add teeth to the drunken driving laws Texas already has in place. Currently, punishments for first offense include up to $2,000 in fines, up to six months in jail and a mandatory license suspension. By the third offense, the fine can jump to $10,000 (with an additional $2,000 a year to stay licensed). But even with these consequences in place, drunken driving is a major problem in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Police in Texas made more than 96,000 DUI arrests in 2009. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the state leads the nation in drunken driving crashes and deaths.

Other states already have similar measures in place. One of the most dramatic examples is Florida's law. Florida's auto insurance minimum liability limits are 10/20/10 ($10,000 per person and $20,000 per accident for bodily injury, with $10,000 for property damage). A DUI pushes those minimums up to a staggering 100/300/50, or $100,000 per person, $300,000 per accident and $50,000 to repair damaged property.

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