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Subject: Follow up on $17K DWI Cost Estimate
Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2011 12:10:36 -0500
From:
To: <wgselby@statesman.com>


Follow up on $17K DWI Cost Estimate Hello, Gardner. I just wanted to follow up on our conversation Friday. We appreciate your invitation to share some additional points about how we arrived at the $17,000 DWI cost figure.
 
It’s important to be clear about the campaign’s overall goal. In a state where nearly 1,000 people are killed every year in alcohol-related crashes, something has to be done to reduce this staggering number. Our campaign uses the high cost of DWI to motivate drivers to consider the financial risk of being caught for driving while intoxicated so they will choose not to take the chance.
 
As we discussed on Friday, the $17,000 number comes from averaging the highest costs for specific DWI-related expenses that our 2006 study found in six markets. We reduced the amount of $19,000+ by $2,000 to acknowledge not everyone will be paying the maximum.
 
 “Weighted” is a term that you’ve also heard from our agency, and that, too, needs some clarification. We should have made it clear that while $17,000 is reflective of the reported high costs of a DWI in the largest Texas cities, it isn’t a weighted number. Since there are more alcohol-related crashes and more arrests for drunk driving in major cities by virtue of their larger populations, it also follows that more people are paying big-city prices for their DWI mistakes. Because of the higher volume of impaired drivers in Houston, DFW, Austin and San Antonio, we could make the case that metropolitan DWI costs should be considered the more likely set of expenses. We chose not to do that.
 
Instead, we simply averaged the high-end costs in all markets, even with incomplete data from the Valley. Since this approach had the effect of actually lowering the overall high average  -- $19,000 v. the $22,000 it would have been had we considered only the top four big cities in Texas – we believe $17,000 is a reasonable and fair representation of what many drivers shell out for a DWI, especially knowing there are various auxiliary costs for this offense, too.
 
When you consider extra costs associated with DWI beyond what is mandated by state law and individual counties, they vary widely and include higher insurance rates, loss of current and future income, and even alternate transportation if you lose your privilege to drive for a few months. Even though expenses like these are hard to quantify and pin down, they have to be taken into account anyway – they are part of the financial burden someone convicted of a DWI has to deal with, and they can add thousands of dollars to the total DWI price tag.
 
We know, for example, that insurance rates go up for drivers with a DWI on their driving records. It is considered a major violation, and one that stays on a driver’s record for five years. Preferred carriers, like State Farm, won’t even issue an auto policy if a driver has had a DWI conviction. Since policy rates depend on the driver’s age, county of residence, driving record, type of vehicle, and policy limits, a conservative estimate is that someone will likely pay at least $500/year in additional premiums with a DWI on their record – every year for five years. For many drivers, the insurance up charge will be much, much higher.
 
Then there is the issue of lost income if someone gets fired or has to take off work for hearings, probation visits or even to serve some jail time. Would someone have to arrange for taxis to take them to and from work if they couldn’t drive for several months? Would they need to pay for counseling or treatment for a drinking problem? Use the lowest realistic number you can think of, and it’s going to drive up the cost of a DWI beyond what the courthouse will ask for and what a defense attorney is likely to charge.
 
Our contention is that $17,000 is a reasonable and representative number to describe total DWI costs, and our client agrees. Can a defendant get a cheap lawyer and spend less money? Of course. Can court-mandated charges be reduced or even eliminated   because a judge assesses less than the maximum penalty or doesn’t order an ignition interlock? Sure. Even so, those “savings” easily can be offset by variable and expensive auxiliary charges. However you choose to look at it, a DWI conviction is expensive, whether we believe it’s $17,000, or you prefer another price.
 
If only one person pays $17,000 for a DWI, saying DWI costs $17,000 is a true statement. We believe thousands of offenders have paid this amount and much more. If someone is dealing with a second or third offense, the fine alone jumps from up to $4,000 or $10,000.
 
This is not about who has the “right” number to describe how much a DWI is going to cost, whether it’s the first conviction or a subsequent one. It is about using the reality of a substantial financial hit as a deterrent to get people not to get behind the wheel if they have had too much to drink.
 
We think drivers need to know a lot of money is at stake if they choose to drive drunk. This campaign, like every traffic safety campaign our agency and TxDOT develops together, is about saving lives and preventing injuries. That’s why we stand behind it 100%.

Robert

Robert Nash, PR Director
Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing