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How a DUI Can Affect Your Car Insurance Coverage and Premiums

Many if not all drivers are scared that they won’t be able to get car insurance in California anymore after a DUI arrest. However, there may be some insurance companies who may not be as unwilling to extend insurance to you so long as you have a valid driver's license.

We will answer a variety of frequently asked questions concerning:

  • How you may still be able to get car insurance after you were arrested for DUI in California
  • How you may be able to reduce the impact of a DUI on your car insurance premiums

This information applies to California criminal court convictions and/or DMV administrative license specials for violations of the following California vehicle code sections:

  • DUI, a violation of California Vehicle Code §23152 (a)
  • DUI with a BAC of .08% or greater, a violation of California Vehicle Code §23152 (b)
  • Commercial vehicle DUI, a violation of California Vehicle Code §23152 (d)
  • Taxi/limousine/ridesharing driver DUI, a violation of California vehicle code section 23152 (e)
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or DUID, a violation of California Vehicle Code §23152 (f)
  • DUI causing injury, a violation of California Vehicle Code §23153
  • Underage DUI (BAC of .05% or greater), a violation of California Vehicle Code §23140
  • Wet reckless, reduced charge in a DUI plea bargain, violation of California Vehicle Code §23103.5
  • Dry reckless, reduced charge in a DUI plea-bargain, a violation of California Vehicle Code §23103, AND
  • Exhibition of speed, reduced charge in a DUI plea-bargain, a violation of California Vehicle Code §23109 (c)

Our California DUI defense attorneys will provide you with a better understanding of how you can get car insurance even after a DUI in the following article.

1. Are you required to report your DUI arrest to your auto insurance provider?

California vehicle code section 23152 VC, which addresses driving under the influence and is California’s “main” DUI law says nothing about you having to notify your insurance company of your DUI arrest. In other words, no legal requirement exists that you have to notify your auto insurance carrier of your DUI arrest. Nor does this statute require you to report a DUI conviction or a suspension of your driver’s license by the DMV, i.e., DMV administrative driver’s license suspension.

Having said that, insurance policies generally obligate you to notify your insurance provider if you were involved in an accident.

Furthermore, California law obligates you to notify the DMV (either personally, or through your attorney or insurer) within 10 days of any accident in which you were involved in the accident resulted in:

  • Injury to either party (regardless of how minor or severe)
  • The death of any person, OR
  • If property damage exceeded $1000.[1]

2. How is your insurance company able to learn about a DUI?

There are generally five ways in which a California auto insurance company can find out about a conviction for DUI:

  1. The insurance provider conducts a background check when your existing car insurance policy comes up for renewal;
  2. The insurance provider conducts a background check when you apply for a new policy;
  3. When you, the driver, ask your insurer to submit an SR 22 certificate to the California Department of motor vehicles (which is required if you want your suspended license to be reinstated);
  4. When you, the driver, self-report your conviction to your insurance company; and
  5. You are arrested after a car accident and you, the driver, or another party reports the accident to the DMV or your insurance company.

2.1: Your current automobile insurance policy is up for renewal or you apply for a new policy

California law prohibits an insurance company from outright canceling a car insurance policy or raising your insurance premium midterm. Therefore, unless a claim is made, your insurance company will generally only seek out a driver’s record:

  • If you apply for a new policy
  • In certain situations, when your existing policy is due for renewal

In these two scenarios, your insurance company can pull up your:

  • DMV driving record
  • Criminal record

These records will generally reveal any DUIs within the last 10 years.

They would also reveal a “wet reckless” conviction going back seven years.

Fortunately, insurers don’t always conduct background checks when policies come up for renewal. But why is that?

Because insurance companies have to pay approximately $1.50 to conduct a background check on each policyholder, which, at first glance, might seem like a trivial amount, until one considers the millions of policyholders it would have to run background checks on every time their policies come up for renewal. This, of course, makes it an astronomical expense.

Thus, companies generally don't run background checks for every policyholder. Having said that, they do conduct background checks on new policies as well as renewals they consider to be higher risk (risk factors discussed below).

An insurer is not as likely to conduct a background check on you if:

  • you’ve got a long track record without any claims
  • You fit the "low-risk driver” profile.

Consider also that your renewal may come due while you are DUI criminal charge or DUI driver’s license suspension is pending. However, if it's not on your driver's record, or if your insurance company simply doesn't pull your record, this may not be a problem.

The insurer has the burden of finding out about your DUI.

Keep in mind that unless there was an accident, it's your insurance company's burden to find out about your DUI.

It is not your job as the policyholder to report it. Insurance companies are aware of this and they have conjured up clever algorithms on which policyholders’ renewals to run background checks.

It is, unfortunately, impossible to predict exactly when an insurance company does this for any particular driver or which insurance company is known to do this. A California driver may be offered one or two policy renewals before his or her insurance company “excavates” their record.

Or the insurance company may run a background check the very first time it is due to renew the policy. So, at the end of the day, it is not possible to predict with certainty.

Sooner or later, however, insurance companies generally find out about their policyholders’ DUI.

Drivers can essentially gamble and cross their fingers that their insurance provider does not find out right away. alternatively, they can buy a standalone SR 22 insurance policy.

2.2: The driver issues a request for an SR 22 certificate

Usually, auto insurers discover that one of its policyholders picked up a DUI when the former requests for an SR 22 certificate. Also known as proof of financial responsibility, an SR 22 is a certificate which the drivers auto insurance issues a driver.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles makes it a requirement that an SR 22 must be turned in to reinstate a suspended license or to issue a new license, including after the driver has incurred a DUI.

What an SR 22 certificate is:

An SR 22 is a certification that a driver carries auto liability insurance that meets the “15/30/5” minimum limits that are required in California.

“15/30/5 limits” represent that, for any one single accident, the policy will cover up to the following:

  • $15,000 for the bodily injury or death of one person;
  • $30,000 cumulative for the wrongful death or the bodily liability of any and all persons who were hurt or killed in the automobile accident; AND
  • $5000 for property damage.[2]

Many California drivers choose the more prudent routes of maintaining policies with higher limits. In California, 15/30/5 is just the minimum insurance that is required in the state.

How to request an SR 22

The only entity that can issue an SR 22 is the driver’s auto insurer. To get an SR 22, a policyholder must request this certification from their insurance company. The insurance company will then complete the form and send it electronically to the DMV.

Insurance companies usually charge a nominal fee of around $25 to issue an SR 22.

However, the insurance company will inevitably want to find out why the driver is even requesting an SR 22, at which point, if the reason was DUI, the insurer will learn about it.

Based on that reason, drivers seeking to reinstate their suspended driver’s license may elect to purchase what is known as a “standalone” SR 22 insurance policy. This is a policy containing minimum auto insurance that is purchased from an insurance company that may be more “DUI friendly” than the driver’s current insurer.

In certain cases, it may be beneficial simply to buy more insurance to save money on premiums despite the counter-intuitive nature of this choice at first glance.

What SR 22 insurance is and is not

SR 22 insurance is merely a regular auto policy for which an insurer has issued an SR 22 certificate to the DMV on behalf of its policyholder. However, SR 22 insurance is not any sort of special or particular kind of insurance.

Keep in mind that this is not necessarily the same policy that the driver had at the time he or she was arrested or convicted of DUI.

The only thing the DMV cares about is that the driver has the minimum coverage or protection with “threshold” limits of at least 15/30/5.

Can a driver avoid having to get SR 22 insurance?

Unfortunately for you if you picked up a do you why, no. There’s generally no way for you to avoid the legal requirement that you have to get SR 22 insurance following a DUI, except maybe avoiding driving altogether.

The reason for this is that following an arrest for drunk driving or DUI of drugs, the DMV will issue an automatic suspension of your driver’s license unless:

  • You or your attorney requested and won your DMV administrative per se hearing to challenge the suspension of your license,
  • You were not criminally convicted of a DUI (in court).

If you lose either or both of the above-mentioned proceedings, your license shall be suspended.

The length of your driver’s license suspension or revocation may vary depending on:

  • Your specific offense
  • Whether it’s your first, as opposed to a subsequent (second, third, fourth, etc.) DUI.

However, typically, the duration of a first time DUI license suspension is six months. Suspensions for subsequent DUIs, as well as suspensions of commercial licenses, can last much longer.

Getting your suspended or revoked license reinstated

After your term of suspension or revocation, you (the driver) can:

  • Have your suspended license reinstated
  • Apply for a new license if your license was revoked

The DMV will require an SR 22 certificate in either case before it reinstate your driving privileges.

You must maintain this SR 22 insurance for a minimum duration of three years. After this three-year term has concluded, the DMV will generally not require proof of financial responsibility any longer.

Consider, however, that your DUI will stay on your driving record for 10 years (and will remain on your permanent criminal record).

It goes without saying that this can greatly damage your insurability as a driver.

2.3: You, the driver, self-reports your conviction to the insurer

Despite the fact that California law does not specifically obligate drivers to report DUIs to their insurance companies, certain drivers may want to report one anyway.

Why? Because your insurance company is likely to discover your conviction or suspension sooner or later. By self-reporting, you gain the opportunity to get ahead of the narrative and, hopefully, diminished or blunt the very negative impact of the insurance company finding out on their own about your DUI arrest or conviction. You will know whether your insurer is likely to offer you a renewal and, if so, how much your premium is likely to go up.

This gives you the information and the time that you would need to shop around for a policy that carries a lower premium rate.

This can, however, be a risky strategy. It is recommended that you discuss this approach only with a highly-experienced California DUI lawyer.

3. Can your insurance company simply cancel your automobile insurance after you pick up a DUI?

The law in California prohibits an insurance company from outright canceling your auto insurance policy midterm. Thus, an auto insurance company cannot abruptly cancel your insurance policy or raise your premium.

Having said that, when the policy is due for renewal, the insurance carrier can legally do the following:

  • Decline any offer to renew your insurance policy, i.e., cancel your policy;
  • Offer you a renewal but on different, i.e., less favorable (for you) terms, such as a higher insurance premium; and/or
  • Remove any “good driver” discount, if you had one (in fact, the law requires the insurance company to do this).[3]

4. Will a California DUI arrest or conviction trigger an increase in my automobile insurance premiums?

Generally, a California DUI will result in your car insurance premiums to go up, and often substantially. This increase will apply to:

  • Any policy that you, the driver, applied for with any new insurance company
  • Any renewal of your existing car insurance policy, if your insured conducts a new background check.

The higher premium is because a DUI conviction or suspension of your license places you under the "high risk” category or designation. Not all insurance companies are so quick or even willing to issue automobile insurance to high-risk drivers. Such companies may simply withdraw or refrain from offering any renewal, which effectively canceled your policy.

There may be other insurance companies that are more “DUI friendly.” However, generally, the premium will reflect the increased possibility (at least from the viewpoint of your insurance company) that you will or may be involved in a car accident in the future.

Factors that go into determining your automobile insurance rates after you pick up a DUI

Your driving record is not the only consideration when a car insurance company determines premium rates. Insurance carriers generally also consider other factors, including your

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Whether you are married or single
  • Your driving history and experience
  • The length of your previous coverage without a claim
  • Where you reside
  • The length of time that you resided at the same address
  • Whether you own or rent your home, AND
  • Any affiliations with professional organizations
A lawsuit can hurt your car insurance rates

One variable that nearly always bears negatively on your insurance premium is if you were sued by another driver. For example, an intoxicated motorist may be involved in a car wreck in which another person was injured or even killed. That person (or the family members of a deceased party) may bring a lawsuit against you and your insurance company.

Getting hit with such a lawsuit will very likely cause your insurance premiums to escalate and you may even be denied a renewal of your policy.

This is particularly true if you, the driver, loses the litigation or the insurance company elects to simply pay off the other side to settle the lawsuit.

5. How high does your insurance go up after a DUI?

It’s hard to predict exactly how high your insurance premium will go up after you have picked up a DUI arrest or conviction. Different insurance companies have varying degrees of tolerance for risk. Moreover, as previously discussed in this article, various factors go into determining your car insurance rates.

Having said that, on average, car insurance premiums can increase by over $2000 after you have picked up a California DUI conviction or license suspension.

Kiss your good driver discount goodbye

The premium rate hike will be most adverse to drivers who had a good driver discount before their DUI.

Pursuant to California law, car insurance companies may not offer good driver discounts for 10 years to a driver who has picked up a DUI. This length of time will begin from the date you were arrested for DUI, rather than your conviction, assuming that you are ultimately convicted.[4]

Needless to say, this law does not impact a driver who did not previously have a good driver discount. However, for those drivers he did have a good driver discount, this discount loss can increase your insurance premium up to approximately 30%!

Shop around to get the best rates

Irrespective of your driving history, rates may greatly vary between different car insurance companies. This even includes premium rates for drivers who have a DUI on the record.

It is recommended that drivers conduct their research before choosing a new insurance company. Shopping around will increase the odds that you will get a decent policy at a lower rate.

You can also contact the California Department of insurance to help ascertain whether you were working with an insurance agent or broker is in good standing.

6. What if a driver cannot secure insurance after having picked up a DUI?

Finding a car insurance company can be excruciatingly difficult if you've picked up a DUI but it is not impossible. The law in California requires all drivers in this state to carry automobile insurance.[5] Consequently, the state must ensure that everybody can get insurance coverage.

There are insurance brokers whose specialty it is to find car insurance policies for drivers who have sustained a DUI in California.

The California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan, also known by its acronym "CAARP," is a program that helps match high-risk drivers with car insurance companies who may be willing to ensure them. these car insurance companies will generate policies for drivers who are not able to get high risk or even an SR 22 coverage on their own after they've gotten a DUI.

CAARP insurance coverage can be obtained through any car insurance broker or agent.

7. Is it possible to get an SR 22 without telling your car insurance company?

No. An SR 22 certificate must be generated by a driver’s car insurance company. However, no statute or law prohibits you, the driver, from having more than one insurance policy.

In fact, many drivers elect to buy a second policy from a DUI-friendly insurance company other than or in addition to their primary car insurance.

This is particularly true for those drivers who have policies at limits that are higher than

that the minimum 15/30/5 as required by California law.

Your new policy will be at the minimum 15/30/5 (that is legally required in California) since that is all the DMV requires.

This allows the new car insurance policy to generate an SR 22 for your second policy. The original insurer will not discover the DUI simply because you requested an SR 22 from an alternative insurer.

Insurance of the sort is occasionally and misleadingly labeled “SR 22 insurance.”

What is the cost of getting SR 22 car insurance in California?

For the first year of coverage, a secondary SR 22 insurance policy generally costs between $300 and $600. This cost will usually decline in the second year because it will be likely that no claims will have been made on the policy.

Keep in mind that your insurer might still learn about the DUI when it’s time to renew the primary policy. If that occurs, the primary policy might get canceled or the premium will be raised exorbitantly. However, the secondary insurance limits can also be increased.

With the increased limits on the secondary insurance, the cost will usually be lower than what the first insurer quotes because:

  • The new insurer is most likely “DUI friendly”
  • You can indicate to the new insurer that there were no-claims made on the primary policy (because of the short duration)

For example, Paul is a homeowner and owns other assets and properties. He has a 250/500/100 auto policy and a $2,000,000 umbrella policy from an auto insurer. His auto policy includes a good driver discount and other discounts for having other types of insurance with the company. He has had his auto policy for a decade without any noteworthy claims.

Paul’s policy is set to be renewed in December. However, before he gets a chance to renew his policy, he gets arrested for a first-time DUI offense in May. His attorney was able to get the charge lowered to a "wet reckless" due to a plea bargain. But the DMV still suspends Paul’s license for six months.

In November, Paul becomes eligible to reinstate his license. To have his license reinstated, he needs to provide an SR 22 to the DMV. Because of Paul’s good standing with his insurer, his insurer will offer a renewal without checking Paul’s criminal or DMV records.

But if Paul asks for an SR 22, his insurer will certainly discover the wet reckless offense. This will cost Paul his good driver discount and probably result in a large increase in his premiums.

To avoid this, Paul inquires with his attorney for a possible broker that represents DUI-friendly companies. The broker finds Paul an affordable SR 22 policy for $350 a year, which he then submits to the DMV so he can get his license reinstated.

Paul’s primary policy comes up for renewal and the company does not run a background check due to his good standing with them. As a result, Paul was able to save several thousands of dollars over the next two years.

8. It is possible to clear a driver’s records of any DUI charges or convictions?

A California expungement will clear a DUI conviction from a driver’s criminal record. However, this will not clear the offense from the records of the DMV.

There are many benefits to having a criminal record expunged in California. Unfortunately, this does not include saving you money in the context of auto insurance.

9. How long will a DUI conviction stay on a driver’s records?

A DUI conviction and suspension of license for a DUI will stay on the DMV records for 10 years.[6][6] This period also applies for “failure to appear in court” to answer for the DUI charges.

A conviction for a “wet reckless,” “dry reckless,” or “exhibition of speed” will remain for 7 years.[7]

10. Is there any way to clear a driver's records with the DMV?

The only way to not have a record with the DMV is to request a DMV hearing within 10 days of the DUI arrest, and to win at the hearing or successfully appeal the hearing officer’s decision.

Keep in mind that periods set for requesting for hearing and appealing with the DMV are strict. Also, there are fees to pay depending on where the appeal is filed.

It is quite challenging to win in a DMV hearing. However, securing the services of an experienced DUI defense attorney to represent you in these hearings will help with the case.

After the 10-year period, will the DMV automatically delete a driver’s DUI records?

Yes. The DMV will do this automatically and no further action is needed on the part of the driver. However, it may be in your best interest to secure copies of your records to be on the safe side.

11. Will the reduction of a DUI to a wet reckless/dry reckless/exhibition of speed affect my car insurance premiums?

The short answer is, yes. Normally, car insurance providers do not distinguish between a wet reckless/dry reckless/exhibition of speed and a DUI. They treat these offenses the same as they are all moving violations. Also, a wet reckless violation will indicate if alcohol or drugs were involved in the offense. This will add two points to a driver's DMV record and can add more if the offense was committed on a commercial vehicle.

In effect, all these offenses will still increase premium rates because car insurance premiums are based mostly on the points appearing on your DMV records.

What are the benefits of having the DUI charge reduced?

Although a reduction of a DUI charge will not help with the premium rates, it is still practical to have the charge reduced because the criminal penalties will be lighter than that of DUI. Also, a reduced charge will only stay on the DMV records for 7 years while a DUI will stay for 10 years.

Hope and help are here

California DUIs can be complicated, particularly, if you are not a seasoned DUI defense attorney. Despite how busy we are fielding inquiries from people who desperately want our help, we will do our best to put you in contact with an experienced lawyer from our firm.

Do not hesitate to call us at (626) 827-7222 to schedule your no-cost consultation with our experienced DUI attorneys..


[1] California Vehicle Code §16000(a)

[2] California Insurance Code §16056(a)

[3] California Insurance Code §1861.025(c)

[4] Supra note 3

[5] California Vehicle Code §16000 – 16078

[6] California Vehicle Code 1808(b)(1)

[7] California Vehicle Code 1808(b)(2)

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