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Blog: Are you covered if you drink and drive?

Insurance policy documentIn recent months, changes by some car insurance providers over driving under the influence of drink and drugs have caused confusion, writes motoring lawyer Jeanette Miller. 

Most drivers know that a conviction for drink driving carries several negative consequences.

Usually, of biggest concern to the clients we represent is the mandatory minimum disqualification from driving of 12 months.

However, other lesser known problems are issues with foreign travel, difficulties getting insurers to pay out if involved in an accident and problems in getting cover after a driving ban is lifted.

Also, you may still face difficulties with your insurance cover even if you are not brought before a court for prosecution.

'Under the influence'

In recent months, insurers have been criticised for introducing seemingly unworkable policy clauses relating to drivers involved in accidents when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

But this could include prescription drugs.

When questioned by BBC's Radio 4's Moneybox programme, insurers seeking to rely on these exclusions said drivers would be covered for third party claims.

The insurers said the exclusion was intended to prevent a payout to any driver "under the influence".

They added that that any use of this exclusion would be considered on a case by case basis.

Judicial process

What is wrong with this concept, however, is that it could lead to insurers making life-changing decisions without any form of judicial process being necessary to prove a driver’s guilt.

We are not talking about guilt for a crime but for being "under the influence", whatever that means.

Am I under the influence when my alcohol levels are zero but I have a raging hangover from the night before? What about my prescribed painkilling medication?

If you have an accident and the driver has consumed alcohol but is under the limit so their conduct is not considered illegal, insurers have indicated the policy will continue to provide cover.

Reasonable approach

However, my concern is that when a clause is so widely drafted, would the insurer take such a "reasonable" approach when considering a payout following an accident involving a written off Ferrari?

Thankfully, most of the insurance companies who introduced these clauses have since withdrawn these exclusions.

Presumably they have done so because such exclusions would be incredibly difficult to implement and have a number of unintended consequences.

Still, it's worth checking your car insurance policy and the terms that relate to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

What if I am a passenger?

Yes, you read that right! You can even be punished by insurers for being an innocent passenger with no involvement in the driving error.

If you are injured in a car accident but the insurer alleges you were aware that the driver had been drinking but still got in the car with them, any compensation you are entitled to could be reduced by 20 to 30 per cent.

Insurers have successfully argued that a passenger in these circumstances has contributed to their own injuries in the same way as when a passenger does not wear a seatbelt.

Reduced compensation

There was even a case where a passenger found their compensation reduced by a whopping 75 per cent as it was found that they actively encouraged a drunk driver to drive.

Thankfully, if a court finds that you were unaware that the driver had been drinking, you should be enttitled to 100 per cent of your compensation.

However, unlike this passenger compensation reduction, there is no automatic judicial process involved in exercising the "under the influence" exclusion.

This means insurers can effectively use this as a get out of jail card even in the most innocent of scenarios.

What do you think?

Should insurers withdraw cover from people who drink and drive, even if they are under the legal limit?

We want to hear from you. Share your views on the messageboard below.

Motor lawyer Jeanette Miller, is a senior partner at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, a UK firm specialising solely in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences. She is also a member of the Association of Motor Offence Lawyers.




Jeanette Miller

Jeanette Miller

Motor lawyer Jeanette Miller is the managing director of Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, a UK firm specialising solely in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences.

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