Archive for Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Drunken-driving bill has hidden consequence

July 24, 2001


Sounds reasonable. Thirty days doesn't seem like a long time, and if someone's dumb enough to do it again, well, tough.

But under the new law, it doesn't even matter if the young Kansans are behind the wheel when caught.

And a Lawrence insurance agent says few parents and even fewer youngsters understand the full financial consequences of a 30-day suspension.

"This is going to be devastating for a lot of people, I'm afraid," said Chris Chapin, an agent with Stephens Insurance in Lawrence.

Insurance companies, Chapin said, routinely cancel or decline to renew car insurance after learning a person's driver's license has been suspended.

"A 30-day suspension is no different than a year suspension. It doesn't matter," Chapin said. "Bad things are going to happen to that person's ability to get insurance."

Drivers whose licenses are suspended should also expect their insurance premiums to quadruple, Chapin said.

That's not all. Most drivers between ages 15 and 21 are on their families' policies. So for them to remain on the policy, the family, too, will see its premiums at least triple, Chapin said.

To avoid the increase, he said, the offender either will have to sell his or her vehicle or live outside the household.

The consequences apply to anyone who is under 21, caught drinking and whose blood-alcohol content exceeds .02 percent. A single beer would put most people at or above the .02 level.

Both the state Insurance Department and the Kansas Attorney General's Office verify the validity of Chapin's warning.

"He's right," said Mark Olemeier, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office. "The laws says if you're a 'minor in possession,' you're subject to an automatic, 30-day driver's license suspension."

Nicole Corcoran Basso, director of public information at the Kansas Insurance Department, said policy cancellations or nonrenewals in response to license suspensions were nothing new. And the new law sends an unmistakable message.

"If you're underage, you shouldn't be drinking. It's that simple," she said.

Chapin said the law would prove harsher than lawmakers intended.

"I'm certainly against drunk driving and I do not condone underage drinking, but I also think kids are kids. They're going to have a beer, they're going to get caught, and there ought to be consequences for that," Chapin said. "But this -- causing their insurance premiums to go through the roof -- is an overreaction.

"We're treating someone who's caught with a beer the same as if they were driving drunk. That doesn't seem right."

The disparity doesn't bother Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood, who played a key role in getting the new law passed.

"To me, it's a reflection of the fact that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among young people, and that alcohol is one of the leading contributors to these accidents," Adkins said.

"It may seem a harsh consequence, but I see it as one more indication of the need for communities to get behind alternatives to alcohol when it comes to helping young people find ways to entertain themselves."

The new law took effect July 1. As yet, there is no official tally of underage drinkers whose licenses have been suspended. But Chapin said he's heard of a couple cases in south central Kansas.

-- Staff writer Dave Ranney can be reached at 832-7222.

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