Driving Without Insurance in California

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com


At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

Every driver in California is legally required to carry car insurance or another form of acceptable financial responsibility. Driving without car insurance comes with steep consequences that can affect your driving privileges and your future car insurance premium. California drivers need to understand California car insurance laws, including the penalties for driving without insurance and what happens if you get into an accident without coverage.

Penalties for driving without insurance in California

In California, drivers who are caught without proper insurance coverage face a number of consequences including fines. Some drivers lose their license and get their vehicle impounded. Typically, the penalties are less severe for first offenses and become more significant for second and third offenses.

California drivers who are found to be driving without insurance and get their license suspended are required to get an SR-22. An SR-22 is a certificate that proves the driver carries the state’s minimum coverage requirements for financial responsibility. For most California drivers, an SR-22 stays on their record for at least three years.

Another consequence of driving without insurance is higher insurance premiums. Drivers that have an SR-22 on their record are considered high-risk, which means their insurance premium will increase significantly. Their insurance premium will continue to be expensive until the SR-22 is removed from their record.

Getting into an accident without insurance

Getting into an accident without car insurance in California is a serious offense. If the police are called to the scene and the driver cannot provide proof of car insurance, their license will be suspended and their vehicle may be impounded at the scene. If it is the driver’s second or third offense, the consequences could be more severe.

California does not require drivers to carry uninsured motorist coverage. Every insurance company is required to offer it, but drivers have the option to waive the coverage when they buy a policy.

Penalties for causing an accident while uninsured

However, uninsured drivers will face additional penalties depending on which driver caused the accident. If the uninsured driver caused the accident, they will be financially responsible for the other driver’s losses, which includes paying for their medical bills, car damages and lost wages. They will also be responsible for their personal legal fees if the insured driver takes them to court.

If an insured driver has uninsured motorist coverage and is hit by an uninsured driver, they will most likely sue the uninsured driver for their losses. Because the uninsured driver does not have insurance, the other driver may attempt to seize their financial assets, like their home, investments or savings.

Penalties when hit by another driver

If the uninsured driver is hit by another driver, they are not off the hook completely. California has a “no pay, no play” law, which limits the amount of money an uninsured driver can collect from an insured driver. The law, formally known as Proposition 213, requires uninsured drivers to pay $10,000 for their own losses before the at-fault driver has to compensate them.

How to get insurance after lapsed coverage

Some drivers assume they have insurance, but in reality, their policy has lapsed and they are driving uninsured. This can happen when the driver fails to pay their premium or renew their policy. It can also happen if policy is canceled and they neglect to purchase new coverage.

Having a lapse in insurance coverage might seem like a harmless offense, but it should be taken seriously. A lapse in coverage puts drivers in the high-risk category and can lead to significantly more expensive insurance rates in the future. It can also make it more difficult to get approved for coverage from a preferred provider.

However, drivers who have a lapse in coverage can still get an insurance policy that meets California’s minimum liability requirement. In this case, drivers should contact an insurance company that specializes in high-risk insurance. High-risk insurance companies are typically more lenient with the policy approval process, but the policies tend to be expensive.

Drivers who are consistently denied coverage can sign up for the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP), which is essentially guaranteed liability insurance. The policies are issued through the non-standard market, from car insurance companies that are licensed in California. Even though coverage is guaranteed, it is not necessarily more affordable than standard insurance.

Frequently asked questions

How much does car insurance in California cost?

Car insurance in California is expensive for most drivers. The average full coverage insurance policy costs $2,012 per year and the average minimum coverage policy costs $580 per year. In comparison, the United States national average rate for full coverage insurance is $1,738. However, every driver pays a slightly different rate for insurance based on factors like their ZIP code, age, credit score, claims history and the type of car they drive.

What if I cannot afford car insurance?

California drivers who cannot afford standard car insurance can apply for coverage through the California Low Cost Auto Insurance Program (CLCA). This program is a California low cost auto insurance plan that helps low-income drivers get coverage. To qualify, drivers must have a valid California driver’s license, meet certain income requirements, own a vehicle that is valued at $25,000 or less, be at least 16 years old and have a good driving record. California low income car insurance can be purchased from a licensed agent.

What is the best car insurance company in California?

California drivers have many options when it comes to car insurance. The best car insurance company in California is different for every driver because it depends on their unique needs and preferences. Drivers should shop around and find an insurance company that can offer them the type of coverage they want at the lowest price.