The Sobering Question: will your insurance pay out for drunk driving?

An accident is one thing. An accident coupled with driving under the influence is another. There is currently fair debate on whether you should be covered for both car and personal damage under these circumstances. Some insurers see it as recompense for breaking the law – not to mention harming other innocent people – and therefore insurance should be excluded under these circumstances.

There is the argument that there are many other reasons why you might be driving and breaking the law other than just drunken driving, i.e.: speeding, reckless driving, driving with poor eyesight, driving with a vehicle that is not 100% roadworthy, etc. Nevertheless, it’s driving illegally over the limit that has some insurers hot under the collar. And so it’s well to read the small print in your policy, and know where you stand.

When your number comes up

South Africa has one of the highest rates of drunken driving in the world, causing up to 14,000 deaths on the road each year. Some insurers have therefore reacted strongly to the situation, rejecting claims outright if drunken or drug-impaired driving is connected in any way to the claim. These policies are very clear when it comes to what constitutes drinking and driving:

  • Being under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect.
  • Having a concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream that exceeds the limit of 0,05 milligrams per 100 milliliters.
  • Having a concentration of alcohol in any specimen of the breath, which is not less than 0,24 milligrams per 1 000 milliliters.

Just a few drinks can impair the ability to drive. Alcohol seriously affects judgment, movement and vision. A drunk driver is far less able to judge distances, maintain a constant speed or react swiftly when an emergency arises. So let’s make things clear. It’s a matter already past debate. The majority of insurance policies now exclude cover for any loss or damage in circumstances where it is found that an insured driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of an accident – or that the percentage of alcohol in his or her blood exceeds the legal limit.

The sneaky truth

What is chiefly on the mind of any individual driving under the influence, is that he or she may be caught in a road block. They might take a different, circuitous route home via back roads in order to avoid any unpleasant consequences. What they neglect is the sheer financial cost they will be subjected to should they cause an accident . And this is the key aspect that will ruin them far more than a Breathalyzer test. Consider where insurers, backed by the law, now stand:

  • In criminal cases, in order to meet a charge of drunken driving or driving under the influence, the State is required to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that a driver was indeed driving in such a state.
  • However, in civil cases such as claims under an insurance policy, the insurer need only show that the insured was, on a balance of probabilities, driving under the influence.
  • In order to discharge this onus or duty, the insurer need not depend entirely on the results of a blood test or Breathalyzer confirming that the driver was over the legal limit at the time of the accident. It is sufficient to sway the probabilities in its favour if the insurer is able to produce circumstantial evidence to demonstrate that the driver was under the influence of alcohol.
  • Examples of circumstantial evidence upon which insurers often rely are statements by police or emergency service personnel at the scene of the accident, doctors or nurses who attended to a driver who was admitted to hospital, eye witnesses who were able to observe the driver’s demeanor, witnesses who can account for the driver’s whereabouts prior to the collision and who can attest to whether he or she consumed alcohol, security or video footage from restaurants or bars.
  • If the circumstantial evidence establishes on a balance of probabilities that a driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of an accident, the Ombudsman will support the insurer’s decision to reject the claim.

While being caught for driving under the influence is inconvenient and embarrassing enough – such as spending the night in jail, paying a hefty fine, receiving a criminal record – being in an accident and assuming that it’s business as usual with your insurance, is a serious miscalculation you simply can’t afford. Make sure your insurance is up to date – and that you fully understand the terms.

Explaining the fine print, keeping you informed

The BellRyck Financial Group boasts a proud history spanning three decades. We offer short-term insurance, as well as long-term financial investment products and advisory services through our specialist network of service providers.

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