Inside Insurance: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the drunkest one of all?

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) warns that Georgia motorists this year are on track for an increase in highway fatalities for the first time in six years.

Last year, 1,226 people died on the state’s roadways. That is why this year’s holiday catchphrase from GOHS is "If you don’t drive sober, you’ll get pulled over."

While catchphrases have a long-standing tradition in road safety programs, it is a good idea to pay attention to this one since law enforcement is getting tougher on drivers who put others at risk on the state’s roadways. Just for the record, so are insurers.

Year-end holidays are a time for office parties and gatherings of friends and family. There is no shortage of alcoholic drinks for most of these events and therein lies the problem.

Drunk driving never takes a holiday. That’s why law enforcement is joined every year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) and other interested groups. It’s the same story over and over.

“Just one more.” “I can handle it.” “I’m fine.” “No problem!” These phrases are often the last words friends, loved ones and bartenders often hear as the impaired driver heads down the road.

If you “can’t handle it”, and are convicted of drunk driving, you face numerous consequences. In Georgia, even on a first offense you are likely to face a one-year suspension of your license, one of the strictest punishments in the country. Convicted drunk drivers also face vehicle confiscation, possible jail time up to one year and may have to pay a fine anywhere from $300 to $1,000. If that doesn’t deter you, consider a huge increase in insurance premiums or worse yet, your auto insurance is non-renewed when you do get out of jail.

Think this is harsh? You know it! When it comes to drunk driving, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a sports figure, a movie star, or the next-door neighbor. The lesson here is that we as individuals are responsible for our actions.

The fact is one can blame the bartender, the party host, the company that hosted the event, or you can blame drunk driving on personal problems, various other circumstances or, do what is the most difficultlook in a mirror.

If that doesn’t help, the federal safety board is recommending that all states require ignition interlock devices for convicted drunk drivers, including first-time offenders. The five-member National Transportation Safety Board said the devices are currently the best available solution to reducing drunk driving deaths, which account for about a third of the nation's 32,000 traffic deaths each year. In particular, the board cited a new study by its staff that found some 360 people a year are killed in wrong-way driving crashes on high-speed highways. The study concluded that 69 percent of wrong-way drivers had blood alcohol levels above the legal limit of .08.

Let’s really be careful out there this year.

David Colmans is executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service, an industry association of property and casualty insurance companies that do business in Georgia. Contact him by email at