Top Cities for Drunk Drivers

Last Updated Apr 13, 2011 9:43 AM EDT

Watch for weaving motorists the next time you drive through San Diego.
The Southern California beach town boasts more drunk driving violators than any big town in the country, according to a new analysis by Insurance.com that looks at the 10 Top Cities for Drunk Drivers.

Another California community -- San Jose -- is hot on San Diego's heels for more drunk drivers per capita than anywhere else in America.

While Insurance.com won't provide percentages of drunk driving violations, the insurance-shopping web site says drunk driving convictions in these cities are 10 times higher than they are in other big cities that they examined.

Insurance.com came to these conclusions by pulling 320,000 insurance applications from drivers in the 20 largest cities in the U.S. (with the exception of Boston, where they didn't have sufficient data) and seeing which communities had the most applicants with driving-under-the-influence violations.

To be sure, both San Diego and San Jose are proximate to noteworthy wine-tasting rooms in Temecula and the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. But the high incidence of drunk driving violations may have another explanation. Both cities are tough on drunk driving enforcement, running regular sobriety check-points and training cops to look for the more subtle tell-tale signs of inebriated motorists, such as pausing too long at a stop.

In San Diego, for example, there are six cops who are specially trained to detect driving under the influence and they run 20 sobriety check points each year. San Jose has spent so much money incarcerating drunk drivers that the city counsel recently asked the cops if they were, perhaps, being too strict for the city's economic good, according to Insurance.com.

Of course, you also need a fair number of drivers and a fair number who drink to make the top of the list, too. Both cities may also rank highly because they're near major universities and college students are among the most likely to drive under the influence.

But the listing of top cities for drunk driving convictions may serve best as a red flag to those considering getting in a car after a few drinks. If you do that in San Diego or San Jose, your chance of getting caught is excellent. And the economic repercussions of getting caught are really, really bad.

Not only could you face a huge fine, the chance of having your license taken away is also great. If you've had an absolutely pristine driving record before the drunk driving conviction, your insurer might not cancel you, added Kat Zeman, a spokeswoman for Insurance.com. But, the company will raise your rates.

How much? Hold onto your seat belt.

"Your auto insurance rates could double or even triple," Zeman said.

To figure out what that might cost in dollars and cents, I went to the the California Department of Insurance's rate comparison site and found that a 26-year-old male who drives a Honda and has no tickets or accidents would pay about $1,500 for insurance in San Diego. So, if Zeman is right, one drunk driving conviction could cost this driver $1,500 to $3,000 annually--not including the fine for the traffic violation. These convictions remain on your record for years, so the added insurance cost is not a one-time hit.

In fact, drunk driving is such a serious violation that it could crush your ability to buy auto insurance at almost any price. The only moving violation that would generate equal insurance scorn would be a hit-and-run accident, experts note. If your license isn't rescinded after a drunk driving violation, you might have to go to the state's high-risk pool, which sets premiums at roughly the amount of your liquid assets.

The moral of this story: If you happen to be going through any one of the following 10 top cities for drunk driving violations, make sure you don't get near your car after a visit to a bar.

Top 10 Cities for Drunk Driving Violations, according to Insurance.com:

1. San Diego, CA

2. San Jose, CA

3. Charlotte, N.C.

4. Phoenix, AZ

5. Columbus, Ohio

6. Indianapolis, Ind.

7. Los Angeles, CA

8. San Francisco, CA

9. Austin, TX

10. Jacksonville, FLA

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