When you're driving in California, you'll need to carry either proof of liability insurance or an accepted alternative. Getting caught without valid insurance in California could result in a number of penalties. Depending on the situation — for example, you were in a car accident or were pulled over for a traffic violation — the penalties vary. The state may charge you a fine of $1,000, impound your vehicle or even suspend your driving privileges for up to four years if you're a repeat offender. And the cost of your auto insurance could dramatically increase.
Penalties for driving without insurance
When a police officer pulls you over for a traffic violation in California, they can ask you to present your driver's license, California vehicle registration and evidence of financial responsibility. That can come in the form of:
- Proof of liability insurance with limits of $5,000 for property damage, $15,000 for injury to each person and $30,000 per incident.
- An alternative proof of financial responsibility, such as a money deposit with the state treasurer.
Failure to present valid proof of insurance that meets the state requirements could result in a large fine — even if you've simply forgotten to carry your insurance card. However, you may appeal for a reduced fine in court.
Penalties for the first offense
First-time offenders will need to pay a fine between $100 and $200 plus penalty assessment fees, which are currently $26 for every $10 of the base fine amount.
For a fine of $100, you'll pay a penalty assessment of $260 for a total of $360. The court may also impound your vehicle.
Penalties for the second offense
For a second offense, fines increase to $200–$500 and penalty assessments rise to $520–$1,300.
On a $500 fine, you'd ultimately pay between $1,020 and $1,800. That's almost as much as the average annual cost of car insurance in California, which is $1,962.
Getting auto insurance after a lapse in coverage
Once you've received a ticket for driving without insurance, you'll pay more for car insurance because you're considered a higher-risk driver. We recommend working with an insurer that specializes in policies for people with spotty driving records.
Penalties for driving without insurance in an accident
Most car accidents must be reported, and both drivers will need to present evidence of financial responsibility to the department of motor vehicles. You'll need to do this if the collision resulted in property damage that exceeds $750, or if it involves injuries or death.
If you can't show proof of car insurance after an accident, the state will suspend your license for one year — in addition to charging the fine — and your car may be impounded until you pay any towing and storage fees.
After one year, you can apply to have your driving privileges reinstated on the condition that you have proof of financial responsibility. Should you be caught a second time without insurance in an accident, your license will be suspended for up to four years.
Here's what you can expect:
|$100–$200 plus penalty assessments of $260–$520||N/A||Police officer may order a vehicle impoundment|
Second and subsequent offense
|$200–$500 plus penalty assessments of $520–$1,300||N/A||Police officer may order a vehicle impoundment|
First offense after collision
|$100–$200 plus penalty assessments of $260–$520||Mandatory one-year suspension, after which you can have your license reinstated if you maintain an SR-22 and proof of financial responsibility for three years||Court may order a vehicle impoundment|
Second and subsequent offense after collision
|$200–$500 plus penalty assessments of $520–$1,300||Up to a four-year suspension; during the last three years of suspension, your privileges can be reinstated if you provide a SR-22 and maintain it.||Court may order a vehicle impoundment|
Appealing your fine
If you are insured and simply forgot to carry your insurance card, you could still receive a ticket with a hefty fine. But you can get it reduced by appearing in court with proof that you were insured on the date you were pulled over. The court may choose to withdraw your ticket and charge you only a $20 administrative service fee.
It's in your best interest to buy enough coverage as soon as possible to avoid getting slapped with another fine. Plus, having insurance can help you avoid a serious financial burden after an accident. If you can't find coverage, check with the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP).
When your license has been suspended and you need to drive to work or drive your kids to and from school, you may be able to apply for a restricted license that will allow you to continue driving in necessary circumstances.