Should I Tell My Insurance About My DUII?

No one affirmatively notifies your insurance company of your DUII arrest — unless there was a wreck of some sort. If there was a wreck, you should promptly notify your insurer so they start working to pay whoever got their property damaged or was hurt.

But in non-wreck DUII cases, it is in your financial interest (keeping your premiums low) to not affirmatively notify your insurance company. You have no obligation to do so. On the other hand, you also cannot lie — an affirmative lie could nullify your coverage (fraud). Therefore, my advice in this situation is: don’t change your policy. Don’t buy a new car, don’t add a new driver, don’t establish a new primary residence. Those things would all trigger you having contact with your insurance company. They would then set a new rate for you — based on the new car’s value, or the new driver’s driving record, or the new address (address is used in setting rates because some neighborhoods engender more claims than others / are more dangerous than others). Most rate-setting would include a review of your current driving record. Insurance companies generally use a 3-year look-back policy, so if you can make three years from the arrest without the insurance company finding out about your DUII charge, then you should keep your rates as they are. If you are in a situation where you are asked a direct question by your insurance company about the DUII, you must be honest. That is because their obligation to indemnify (pay for claims) is tempered by your duty of cooperation (honesty).

The above is general advice. You should review your policy terms — maybe you have an insurance policy that requires you to notify your insurer of a DUII arrest. I’ve never seen one. However, I have seen employment and professional policies that either require or strongly suggest you notify your employer or your professional licensing board. For instance, as an attorney I would promptly notify the Oregon State Bar if I was arrested for DUII. With professional licensing boards, it seems to always be better to notify early. If things get sticky, or you’re unsure of how to proceed, it’s best to contact an attorney who specializes in this area.

To sum up: if you get a DUII, you don’t have to immediately advertise that fact to your insurance company. If anyone was hurt or if property was damaged, you should open a claim with insurance promptly. And finally, if you occasionally drink and drive (it’s legal, see my blog post here: http://oberlaw.com/uncategorized/not-illegal-to-drink-drive-court-surprised/) you should have policy limits well above the minimum $25,000/$50,000 limits. Hit one Tri-Met or utility box, and you’ll eat that up immediately — and you’ll be personally on the hook for the remainder. There’s not one DUII lawyer I know who is not insured at the $100,000/$300,000 level, often with a $1,000,000 umbrella policies. It is pretty cheap to increase coverage — and much easier than sitting in a debtor’s prison for failure to pay restitution.

What to do if you are stopped for DUII

Perspective from a Portland DUII lawyer:

Let’s say you meet some friends downtown after a long week of hard work. You catch up, and have 2 beers over the course of your time together. On your drive home, you signal 75 feet before making a lane change — the law requires a continuous signal for at least 100 feet. An officer who has been following you turns on overhead lights.

“The reason I pulled you over is for not signalling at least 100 feet before your lane change. License, registration and insurance, please. I can smell some alcohol, how much have you had to drink tonight?”

The best answer would be, “I don’t answer questions.” The officer may make light of the answer, suggest you’re not under arrest, and ask again. “I don’t answer questions,” is a good response to repeated questions. The simple word, “lawyer,” works too.

If you admit to drinking any alcohol, the officer will later call it “the admission of drinking” and use it to hurt you. This does not mean you should lie. Lying is wrong. Just invoke your right to not answer police questions.

“Well, I’m just trying to keep the streets safe tonight. Where are you coming from?”

“I don’t answer questions.” Don’t SAY you know your rights, SHOW you know your rights.

Now the officer is stuck. You’ve made it clear that you are not a source of evidence against yourself, and he has to decide if he has seen enough to justify arresting you for a crime. If he hasn’t, he’ll send you on your way. If he has, he’ll arrest you. There will also be a request for field sobriety testing, but the Oregon Constitution says we’re not required to reveal our thoughts, beliefs, or state of mind — so consider that. In my experience, if you’re not a particularly athletic person you will probably fail the field tests. If you respectfully decline, the officer will tell you he might use it against you at a later hearing. If you’re arrested, don’t freak out — the officer made that decision a long time ago. Now you’ve got to figure out what to do about the breath test.

For most people looking at a first-time DUII arrest, it’s a good idea to blow. First, you might blow well under the legal limit. Second, even if you blow over the limit, the license suspension penalties are much gentler for a failed breath test, rather than a refusal. Third, as a Portland DUII lawyer, I see more officers getting warrants for blood draws if a driver refuses. Nobody wants a cop, or cop-friendly paramedic, sticking a needle in their arm. In any event, if you have any doubts, ask the officer to let you call a lawyer in privacy before making the breath test decision. They’re supposed to give you at least 15 minutes to do this.

If you blow under the legal limit, great! But keep your mouth shut. Some officers can’t believe they got it wrong, and will call in another officer to consider whether you are under the influence of drugs. They do this primarily by asking you, “What drugs have you taken?”

Remember, we have a Bill of Rights that says we don’t have to answer police questions. “I don’t answer questions,” or “I invoke my right to silence and counsel” works, as does, “I don’t answer questions. I want my lawyer here during any questions.” As a practical matter, this cuts-off (and is intended to cut-off) all police questioning.

If you blow over the legal limit, keep your cool, keep a poker face. Continue not making any statements (silence is never supposed to be used against you). Call a good Portland DUI lawyer the next morning! Important timelines come up very quickly.

You might ask why you would call a Portland DUII lawyer instead of someone local to your community. By all means, if there’s a good DUII lawyer in your town, go with that person. However, we’re becoming a bit of a rare breed in parts of Oregon. If you can’t find a DUII attorney to help you, consider calling someone in Portland. Because we live and work in an area with a large population, and many police agencies, it means we deal with a lot of DUII arrests — and incredibly well-trained, experienced, battle-hardened officers. Sometimes your local doctor can handle all your needs, but sometimes you want a specialist — who handles nothing but your kind of problem. Like doctors, lawyers tend to specialize if we can — and we can in a high-density area. Call the best DUII lawyer you can find.

Note: DUI and DUII and DWI are acronyms that describe various state crimes — in Oregon, it’s DUII (Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants). Remember that it is NOT illegal to drive after having consumed intoxicants — like beer, or marijuana / cannabis / THC, or prescription medication — but it is illegal if your mental or physical faculties are adversely affected to a noticeable or perceptible degree because of the alcohol, or drug. Like much in life, it comes down to moderation. It’s not illegal to drink and drive — it is if you’ve had too much. Be careful out there, and get a good DUII lawyer on your side!