'In early 1985, I was charged with a DWI," writes a regular reader from Northern Virginia. "I was wrong and I admit that now as I did then. I paid my debt to society {via a brief suspension of his driver's license and a massive increase in his insurance premium} and, I think, learned a valuable lesson."

But now my reader has learned another lesson. He and his wife are being victimized by his DWI even though she wasn't his wife at the time he was arrested and convicted.

The couple was married in late 1985. The new wife converted the insurance policy on her car so that it showed both she and her husband as drivers. Her insurance agent congratulated the woman on her marriage and said it would mean a lower premium on her car. (Married people of both sexes have fewer accidents than single people of either sex, according to industry statistics.)

All was well for 10 days. Then, without notice, the insurance policy on the wife's car was canceled. Reason: The company had discovered her husband's DWI conviction.

Ignored were these considerations: The husband had never driven the car in question. The husband had never missed an insurance payment on his car, even after his rates were jacked to the moon. The wife's driving record was spotless, both before and after her marriage.

After some scrambling, the couple was able to reinsure the wife's car. However, the new rate reflected the husband's DWI conviction in rather unforgettable terms. The new combined premium on the two cars was just under $1,500 a year. Before the husband's DWI conviction, and before the woman married, the combined premium on the two cars had been less than half as great.

You're probably thinking that 1985 was a while ago, and that justice, mercy, milk and honey have surely started to flow in the direction of this couple by now. Think again.

The husband says that even though it has been five years since his scrape with the law, the couple's insurance company will not reduce the astronomical rate on either of the couple's cars.

Questions: Why is a new wife who had nothing to do with her husband's DWI conviction zinged for it anyway? And how long does a guy have to wait before his DWI conviction is forgiven by the insurance industry?

Ken Schrad, a spokesman for the Virginia Insurance Department in Richmond, said it's standard to consider spouses as being in the same boat for insurance purposes. A car is what's being insured, Ken pointed out, and either spouse could drive it. Therefore, both of this couple's cars would be assessed at a "DWI rate," even though the wife's record was and is spotless.

As for cleansing one's record, Ken said five years should be more than enough for my reader's rates to have started dropping. However, if my reader stays with the same company, it can charge him whatever it wants, Ken noted. His advice: Switch companies. And don't lie. If the new company asks about DWI convictions, tell the truth. It won't necessarily disqualify you, especially five years later.

My advice to all reader/drivers: Think even deeper than you already have about drinking and driving. This story proves that a DWI conviction is a hassle that keeps on hassling.

Great Moments in Human Relations (thanks to my source and co-worker, Patti Brennan):

Patti was returning to the office one day when a panhandler approached and asked for "a dollar for food." Patti happened to have a croissant with her, so she offered it to the man.

"I don't accept food," he said, huffily.

SEND A KID TO CAMP

Lisa Penkowsky of Kensington plans to return to school this fall for a master's degree in education. But before she does, she figured she "should send a {$30} contribution to you and your cause before my regular paychecks stop coming. Speaking as a future teacher, I hope the kids who are able to go to camp will return to their schools happy and ready to learn."

That's precisely the idea, Lisa -- and precisely the spirit. How about those of you whose paychecks aren't about to be interrupted? More than 1,100 underprivileged local kids hope to go to camp this summer under our Send a Kid to Camp program. They can get there only if your dollars provide the oomph. As always, your contribution is tax-deductible and greatly appreciated.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

In hand as of June 26: $112,265.75.

Our goal: $275,000.