From Crescent City to Chula Vista, San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, San Diego to El Centro, California has thousands of miles of roadways. The longest state highway at 801 miles is US 101. The shortest is Route 259, a one-mile ramp connecting I-215 and I-210 in San Bernardino. On any given day, they’re used by an average of about 11,500 to 52,000 vehicles, driven by over 24 million licensed drivers. California’s drivers are involved in thousands of traffic accidents every day, including many that result in serious injury or death. Wherever you live and drive in the Golden State, carrying adequate car insurance is both a legal requirement and commonsense protection. This is your guide to California’s basic vehicle insurance requirements and laws.
California state law requires you to carry a minimum amount of car insurance. Failure to do so can result in severe penalties that may include monetary fines and jail time. Under California’s tort system, you may also be liable for actual damages (expenses associated with property damage and medical costs), economic damages (lost wages and earning capacity) and emotional and physical pain and suffering.
The bare minimum car insurance requirement for California drivers is:
$15,000 bodily injury per person per accident
$30,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident
$5,000 property damage liability
California does not require you to carry additional coverage such as Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist, personal liability or Collision and Comprehensive. However, if you own property or other valuable assets, supplementing the minimum requirements can help you protect yourself from monetary loss.
Penalties for Failure to Carry State Auto Insurance
California law requires that you carry proof of California auto insurance in your car and show it if a law enforcement officer asks to see it. The fine for a first offense is $100 to $200. Subsequent citations for the same offense within 3 years of a prior conviction carry fines of $200 to $500. You may also face suspension of your driver’s license and vehicle registration until you are able to produce proof of insurance. Reinstatement fees may also be assessed. Your vehicle may be impounded and you can be charged for the towing and storage fees.
If you are in a car accident and do not have car insurance, your license will be suspended and you will have to pay a reissuance fee and file an SR-22 Proof of Financial Responsibility form with the California DMV.
California requires insurance companies to submit private vehicle insurance information to its database. If you do not have insurance, you will be notified and given 30 days to produce proof of California auto insurance. Failure to comply may result in suspension of your registration.
Your registration can also be suspended if you cancel your policy and fail to get a new one within 45 days, buy a new car and don’t insure it within 30 days, or provide false proof of insurance.
California conducts random survey checks on the vehicle insurance status of registered car owners and assesses the same penalties already mentioned.
California Car Insurance Premiums
Vehicle insurance premiums are regulated by the California Department of Insurance. Insurance companies are allowed to charge premiums and award discounts based on a number of factors that can include:
The type of car you are insuring
Prior auto insurance coverage
How much you drive
Your driving record
Your marital status
Your geographic location
How long you’ve been driving
Whether or not you use your car for business
California does not allow insurers to consider your credit rating to determine your premium.
How to Get the Cheapest California Car Insurance Policy
You may be able to lower the cost of your premiums in the following ways:
Ask about available discounts for good driving habits, anti-theft devices, multiple cars on one policy, bundling your car insurance with your homeowners or renters policy, automatic or online payments and driving a hybrid or electric car
Compare quotes from a variety of providers on this website
Eliminate unnecessary coverage
Check to see if you qualify for any low-cost auto insurance program your state may offer
New California Driving Laws
Laws regarding driving and car insurance can change frequently. It is your responsibility to stay current about the legal requirements in California. The following laws have recently been enacted in California and may affect your insurance coverage decisions.
A new law requires that you pay all parking and toll violation fines before you can transfer vehicle ownership to a relative or living trust.
Drivers under 18 are prohibited from using an electronic wireless device including hands-free while driving. Drivers over 18 can text using a hands-free device.
Drivers can use their mobile devices to provide proof of insurance during a traffic stop.
Beginning September 2014, drivers passing a bicycle in the same direction must allow at least 3 feet between any part of the vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its driver, or, if the distance can’t be maintained, to slow to a reasonable, prudent speed. Failure to comply can result in a fine.
Illegal aliens in California will be allowed to obtain drivers licenses, which will become available no later than January 2015. They will carry a special designation stating that the license is not official federal identification and cannot be used to prove eligibility for employment or public benefits.