Alcohol exclusion laws were passed in the 1940s to discourage people from drinking alcoholic beverages and to save insurance companies money from injury claims according to a George Washington University Medical Center web site.† It was believed that people would be less likely to drive while impaired or intoxicated if insurance companies could deny medical payments or other claims associated with any injuries associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Over 30 states currently have alcohol exclusion laws and eight others permit insurance companies to deny claims associated with the consumption of alcohol.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that alcohol exclusion laws discourage drunken driving. On the other hand, these laws clearly discourage physicians and hospitals from testing accident victims for possible alcohol in their blood. Thatís because insurance companies can refuse to pay doctors and hospitals for treating patients found to have alcohol in their bodies. In short, screening for alcohol would lead to the loss of payments from insurance companies.

The Medical Center web site says that

The Alcohol Exclusion Law helps drunk drivers escape detection and avoid taking personal responsibility for their drinking problem; makes it more likely that drunk drivers will drive drunk again; adds to the cost of the health care system; and makes it more difficult for individuals who have problems with alcohol or drugs to access the treatment they need.

Since 2001, seven states have repealed or amended their alcohol exclusion laws and several are currently considering such action.

Not surprisingly the insurance industry supports alcohol exclusion laws which save insurance companies vast sums of money every day. However the professional organization of those who regulate insurance companies, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has voted unanimously to recommend the repeal of alcohol exclusionary laws. Other groups supporting their repeal include

  • National Conference of Insurance Legislators (2001)
  • American Medical Association (2003)
  • National Commission Against Drunk Driving (2001)
  • American College of Emergency Physicians
  • American Public Health Association (2004)
  • American Bar Association (2005)
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving
  • Join Together

Alcohol exclusion laws are another example of legislation thatís counterproductive:

Studies have shown that individuals who receive brief alcohol counseling in emergency rooms or trauma centers have 48 percent fewer readmissions to the hospital and 28 fewer drinks per person per week than patients who do not receive counseling óand that for every $1 spent on alcohol counseling for injured patients, hospitals can expect to save $3.81. By discouraging screening and treatment, the Alcohol Exclusion Law leads to more hospital readmissions, DUIs, alcohol-related traffic infractions, alcohol-related arrests, and injury-related hospital readmissions. 5

It appears that alcohol exclusion laws may actually increase drunken driving instead of reducing it.

David J. Hanson, Ph.D.