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If you have been convicted of a major traffic violation in California, such as reckless driving or a DUI, or if your license is suspended, you may be required to have your auto insurance company file an SR-22 on your behalf. An SR-22 proves that you carry the minimum amount of auto insurance required by the state and can be filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It is typically required after conviction for certain serious moving violations before your license can be reinstated. Bankrate’s insurance editorial team explores exactly what an SR-22 is and how it impacts your car insurance eligibility and premiums should you need one.
SR-22 insurance in California
Before we start, let’s answer the question, what is an SR-22 in California? A California SR-22 (or in any state) is not insurance; it’s a “Certificate of Financial Responsibility” that confirms you’re carrying at least the minimum amount of insurance in the state. In California, you must carry at least $15,000 bodily injury liability per person, $30,000 bodily injury liability per accident and $5,000 property damage liability coverage to drive legally. Insurance companies must also offer you uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage, but you can decline in writing if you don’t want these coverage types.
If your driving privileges were revoked after a major violation, you’d need to prove that you have insurance to reinstate your license. California’s SR-22 requirements mean that your insurance company will need to file the SR-22 form with the DMV as proof of your coverage. Each policy renewal, the DMV will be updated that you still have coverage. If your policy lapses or is canceled, the DMV will be notified, and you could lose your driving privileges again. If you’re asking, “how long do you need an SR-22 in California?” The answer is, it depends. You usually have to keep an SR-22 form on file for three to five years after your major violation, but the court system determines the exact length of time.
Cost of SR-22 insurance in California
While an SR-22 in itself does not impact your car insurance rate, the major violation on your driving record that caused you to need an SR-22 almost always will. In fact, you can typically expect your premium to increase substantially. The average cost of car insurance in California is $2,291 per year for full coverage, which is already higher than the national average of $2,014 per year. But the average annual California car insurance premium with a DUI is $5,506 for full coverage, a 142 percent increase. And that’s just your auto insurance policy premium. Most insurance companies charge a small fee for filing the SR-22 form as well. If you are facing a license suspension, it could mean you’ll be viewed as a high-risk driver. Getting an auto insurance policy and an SR-22 form is likely the only way to reinstate your license.
Car insurance is more expensive for high-risk drivers in California due to the likelihood of accidents. Car insurance companies evaluate how risky insuring you would be before they approve you for coverage. They’re looking for clues that you could cause accidents that would require a claim payout. Generally, the higher risk you’re considered, the more you’ll pay for car insurance. Having multiple tickets, accidents or one or more major violations on your record may mean you are viewed as a high-risk driver.
Not all car insurance companies issue SR-22s, so you may need to shop around a bit to find coverage. Once you do, you’ll likely pay a higher premium than before your driving violations. However, you can work your way back to more affordable car insurance rates by driving responsibly to reduce the chances of speeding tickets, DUIs and other traffic violations. In addition, pay your premiums on time and avoid lapses in your coverage. After three to five years of a clean driving record, you may qualify for standard coverage again and could see your premiums go down.
Non-owner SR-22 insurance for California drivers
What happens if you need an SR-22 and don’t own a car? Maybe your license was suspended because of something that happened while driving a friend or family member’s vehicle. If this happens to you, you may be able to get non-owner SR-22 insurance to reinstate your license.
First, you’ll need to buy non-owner car insurance. This type of policy provides liability coverage for you when you don’t own a car. Then, the insurance company can issue the SR-22 form to the DMV. Not all insurance companies sell non-owner car insurance, though, and not all companies file SR-22 forms, so you’ll need to shop around to find a company that will underwrite you.
Frequently asked questions
You’ll typically need an SR-22 for three to five years. This lets the DMV know that you are maintaining at least the state’s minimum required levels of coverage.
When your insurance company issues you an SR-22, they’re letting the DMV know that you are currently insured with at least the state’s minimum requirements. If you stop making your car insurance payments or cancel your policy, the carrier will notify the DMV. You could risk having your driver’s license suspended or revoked.
If you’ve been convicted of a serious moving violation, it may be trickier to find cheap car insurance, but it can be done. First, identify which carriers in California are known for writing cheap policies on average, then select a few and request quotes for the same coverage types and levels so you can compare. You may want to investigate and see which companies are not only the cheapest, but also known for providing car insurance to drivers that are considered high-risk.