Get caught driving without insurance or another form of financial responsibility in California and the state might fine you, suspend your license and registration, impound your vehicle or make you file an SR-22. Your auto premiums will likely be higher when you go to buy a policy, too.
Keep reading to learn more about:
- Driving without insurance penalties
- California car insurance laws
- Getting cheap auto insurance in California
Fines and other penalties for driving without car insurance in California
To drive or even own a vehicle in California, you must have car insurance or some other proof of financial responsibility. If you don’t, the state may hit you with several penalties.
You need to prove financial responsibility whenever you’re pulled over, involved in an accident or renew your vehicle registration. Here’s what happens if you can’t show proof in these situations.
Driving without insurance in California: first, second and later offenses
Here are the penalties you face for driving without car insurance or other proof of financial responsibility in California, based on how many times you’re caught:
|Number of times caught without insurance||Penalty|
|Second or later offense||
So, if you’re caught driving without auto insurance in California, the state can fine you between $100 and $200 for a first offense. And it can fine you between $200 and $500 for second and later offenses.
Think $100 or even $500 doesn’t sound like much of a fine for driving without insurance? You may change your mind after you learn more about the penalty assessments mentioned above.
A penalty assessment consists of several fees the state adds to base bail and fine amounts on infraction, misdemeanor and felony offenses. These extra fees often total hundreds of dollars. This means if you get a $200 ticket for failing to provide a peace officer evidence of financial responsibility, you could pay as much as $900 in the end.
These figures don’t include what you’ll pay in towing and storage fees if the state impounds your vehicle. And you’ll need to pay those fees if you want your car back.
What happens if you’re in a car accident without insurance in California?
If you cause a car accident without insurance in California, the state can suspend your driver’s license for at least one year.
To reinstate your driving privilege, you’ll need to:
- Buy at least the state minimum amount of car insurance
- Provide proof of it to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
- Pay a $55 reissue fee
You’ll also need to file an SR-22 form with the state for three years after you cause a car accident without insurance. And if you lose or cancel this proof of financial responsibility for any reason during these three years, the state will suspend your driving privilege again.
On top of these penalties, you may be held liable for any injuries or property damage you cause in an at-fault accident with no insurance. The other parties involved in the crash can sue you to cover their medical bills, vehicle repair or replacement costs and lost wages.
This is true even if the other parties have uninsured motorist coverage. In this situation, their insurance companies might sue you for damages. That could result in the loss of assets like your house, your car or your future wages.
Filing an SR-22 after driving without insurance in California
You have to file an SR-22 form for three years if you drive without car insurance in California and cause an accident.
An SR-22 form or certificate proves you’re carrying at least the minimum amount of liability coverage the state requires. Also, you don’t file the SR-22 certificate with the state DMV yourself. Your insurance company files it for you.
Not all insurance providers will file SR-22s, so you might need to shop around before you can find one. And when you do find one, expect it to charge you a fee of $15 to $50 to file the SR-22.
You have to pay this fee on top of your car insurance rates. And needing an SR-22 usually coincides with a rate increase, as most insurers consider people who file SR-22s to be high-risk drivers.
California car insurance laws
You must be able to prove financial responsibility at all times to avoid fines and other penalties as a driver or car owner in California.
Most Californians meet this requirement by getting the state minimum amount of car insurance:
- $15,000 bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage per person
- $30,000 BIL coverage per accident
- $5,000 property damage liability coverage per accident
California allows you to prove financial responsibility in other ways, though, if you don’t want to buy an auto policy. You can do this with a:
- Cash deposit of $35,000 with the DMV
- Surety bond for $35,000 from a company licensed to do business in the state
- Self-insurance certificate from the DMV
You have to carry evidence of financial responsibility whenever you drive in California. And you need to show it to the police after a traffic stop or collision when asked to do so.
Finding cheap car insurance in California
It’s illegal to drive without insurance in California. Can’t afford it? Buy the minimum amount of liability coverage the state requires.
This may cost less than you think. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average monthly premium for California’s minimum auto insurance liability policy was $43 in 2016. That’s quite a bit cheaper than what you could pay in fines and penalties if you’re caught driving without insurance.
If you still can’t afford car insurance in California after shopping around, look into California’s Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program.
Most Californians, though, should be able to get cheap car insurance by comparing quotes from multiple companies.
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