Penalties For Driving Without Insurance in California

If caught driving without car insurance in California, expect to lose your license, face fines and penalties, and pay higher car insurance premiums.
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California laws require drivers to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance on any vehicle they own. Without insurance, drivers cannot register their vehicle each year and they face stiff penalties if caught. And if caught multiple times within a certain time period, the penalties and fines continue to grow. At worst, drivers can expect to lose their license or even to have their vehicle impounded.
What penalties and fines do drivers face if caught driving without car insurance in California?

Penalties for driving without car insurance in California

Usually during a traffic stop in California, the law enforcement official asks you for your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of car insurance. While you do face penalties for failure to produce the first two items, the third represents a serious violation, resulting in a fine, potential loss of your license, and possible impounding of your car.
The following chart from ValuePenguin illustrates the different punishments for first, second, and subsequent failures of showing proof of insurance:
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Penalties for Failure to Show Proof of Car Insurance at a Traffic Stop
Fines Driving Privilege Other
First Offense $100 to $200 plus a penalty
assessment of $260 to $520
NA Peace officer may order
impoundment of vehicle.
Second &
Subsequent Offense
$200 to $500 plus a penalty
assessment of $520 to $1,300
NA Peace officer may order
impoundment of vehicle.
Sometimes failure to show insurance results from not having your insurance card in your vehicle or on your person. Unfortunately, California law states that you should keep a copy of proof of financial responsibility in the form of an insurance card in your car at all times. Luckily, you can appeal for a reduced fine in court if you can later show that you have insurance for the car in question.

Penalties in California for driving without insurance and getting into an accident

Driving without insurance is even worse if you have an accident while doing so. California requires car owners to keep a minimum amount of liability insurance on any vehicle they drive. Failure to do so can result in the fines as defined in the following table from ValuePenguin:
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Penalties for Failure to Show Proof of Car Insurance Following an Accident
Fines Driving Privilege Other
First Offense After Collision $100 to $200 plus a penalty
assessment of $260 to $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 to $500 plus a penalty
assessment of $520 to $1,300
Up to four-year suspension; during
the last three years of suspension your
privileges can be reinstated if you provide
an SR-22 and maintain it.
Court may order
impoundment of vehicle.
Just like getting caught driving without proof of insurance for a traffic stop, if you do have insurance but didn’t have proof of coverage on you at the time of the sentence, you can still appeal your fine. If you actually don’t have insurance coverage, then you may have to file an SR-22 form to get your license back if the court suspends it.

What is an SR-22?

An SR-22 form, or Certificate of Financial Responsibility, states that you have the minimum amount of liability car insurance according to California laws. California requires drivers to carry the following minimum amounts of liability coverage:
  • $15,000 of bodily injury coverage per person per accident
  • $30,000 of bodily injury coverage per accident
  • 5,000 of property damage coverage per accident
Once you file an SR-22 with an insurance company, you can then apply to have your license reinstated. An SR-22 costs anywhere from $25 to $50 and stays on your record for at least three years. Filing an SR-22 also places you into a high-risk driver category, which results in higher premiums.
Drivers caught driving without car insurance in California have to contend with a variety of fines and penalties, up to and including loss of their license or having their car impounded. To avoid the hefty fines and penalties associated with driving without insurance in California, keep your insurance up to date and always have a copy of it in your car when driving.
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