Auto Insurance Basics

Penalties for Driving Without Insurance in California

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You are required to carry either proof of liability insurance or one of the accepted alternatives when you're driving in California. The proof of liability insurance must be at least 15/30/5 in coverage, or be one of the acceptable alternative proofs (for example, receipt of money deposit with the State Treasurer). Getting caught without valid insurance or evidence in the Golden State results in a number of penalties since you're required to demonstrate financial responsibility. Depending on the severity of the situation you were in when found uninsured – such as being involved in an accident, receiving a traffic ticket, or getting identified through the DMV’s online registration check-up – the penalties vary. You could face more than $1,000 fine plus penalty assessments, vehicle impoundment, and even up to four years of driving privilege suspension in California when you have been caught driving uninsured more than once. In addition, the cost of your California auto insurance could go up with these records of insurance lags and tickets.

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Penalties for Driving Without Insurance

Anytime a peace officer pulls you over for traffic violations in Cali, he or she has the power to ask you to present three things: your driver’s license, CA vehicle registration, and evidence of auto insurance. Failure to present valid proof of insurance that meets the state requirements could result in a fine that could be anywhere between $360 and $720 or more (on top of the traffic violation ticket fine). Whether you are truely uninsured, or have forgotten to carry your insurance card, you will get a ticket. However, in case you are actually insured, you may be able to appeal for reduced fine in court.

Penalties for 1st Offense

For a 1st offense, you’ll have to pay fines between $100-200. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but that’s because penalty assessment fees have not been included. Penalty assessment is a fee that is added to the base bail and base fine amounts on infraction, misdemeanor, and felony offenses. The current penalty assessment is $26 for every $10 of the base fine amount. For a fine between $100-200, you’ll be paying penalty assessment between $260-520, making your total fine somewhere between $360-720. In addition, the court may order the impoundment of your vehicle. 

Penalties for 2nd Offense

For a 2nd offense, the severity of your penalties will increase and the fines will be between $200-500. The penalty assessment for a $200-500 fine would be between $520-1,300, making your total fee somewhere between $720 and $1,800. To put those numbers into perspective, the average annual cost of car insurance in California is $1,962. If your fine for driving without auto insurance is a total of $1,800, you’re actually paying the cost of nearly a year’s worth of auto insurance. 

Penalties for Driving Without Insurance In An Accident

Whenever you are involved in a collision accident in California that resulted in property damage in excess of $750, bodily injury, or even death, regardless of which driver was at fault, the accident must be reported and both drivers must present evidence of financial responsibility to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you do not provide proof of financial responsibility for your vehicle in effect at the time of the accident, on top of the fine, your license will be suspended for a mandatory one-year period, and your car may be impounded until you pay the necessary towing and storage fee. 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 is a table that illustrates the offense with the corresponding penalties:

Fines Driving Privilege Other
First Offense $100-200 plus penalty assessments of 260-520 NA Peace officer may order impoundment of vehicle
Second & Subsequent Offense
$200-500 plus penalty assessments of 520-1300 NA Peace officer may order impoundment of vehicle
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 impoundment of vehicle
Second & Subsequent Offense after Collision $200-500 plus penalty assessments of 520-1300 Up to 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 impoundment of vehicle

Appealing Your Fine

If you are insured, and simply forgot your insurance card, you could still receive a ticket for a huge fine. The good news is this fine can be reduced. You could receive notice to present yourself on a designated court date, when you can display proof that you are insured when you were pulled over. In case you’re not asked to arrive at a court date, you could ask to plead not guilty in court. As long as you’re able to present proof of your insurance in a court, your ticket might be withdrawn, leaving you with only the $20 administration service fee. 

It is in your best interest to seek out proper liability auto insurance coverage as soon as possible to avoid getting slapped with another fine. In case you get involved in an accident in the future, not having insurance could mean serious financial burden, because you'd be held responsible for someone's property loss or even injuries. If for any reason you are unable to obtain a policy on your own, you may be able to find insurance through the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP).

Restricted License

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.

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