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

In California, an SR-22 is a “Certificate of Financial Responsibility” required for certain drivers to prove they carry the state’s minimum required auto insurance coverage. This includes at least $15,000 for bodily injury liability per person, $30,000 per accident and $5,000 for property damage liability. While insurance companies in California must offer uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, drivers have the option to decline these coverages in writing. For those who’ve had their driving privileges suspended due to major violations, obtaining an SR-22 from their insurer is a necessary step to reinstating their license.

This certificate needs to be filed by the insurance company with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as proof of insurance. The DMV is kept informed of your insurance status at each policy renewal period. A lapse or cancellation in the policy triggers a notification to the DMV, which could result in the revocation of driving privileges. Typically, the requirement to maintain an SR-22 in California spans three to five years, contingent upon the directive of the court system following a major driving offense.

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Who might need an SR-22 in California

An SR-22 is typically mandated for drivers in California who have encountered serious driving-related violations. These might include, but are not limited to:

  • DUI/DWI offenses: Convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs often necessitate an SR-22 filing.
  • At-fault accidents while uninsured: Being involved in an accident without carrying the required insurance can trigger the need for an SR-22.
  • Reckless driving: Citations for reckless or dangerous driving behaviors might require drivers to file an SR-22.
  • Accumulation of excessive points: Accumulating too many points on your driving record from various traffic violations might lead to an SR-22 requirement.
  • License suspension or revocation: Reinstating a suspended or revoked license typically requires an SR-22 filing to prove financial responsibility.

The specific circumstances that necessitate an SR-22 can vary, so it’s important to consult with the California DMV or a legal advisor if you’re uncertain whether your situation requires one.

Where can you get an SR-22 in California?

To obtain a California SR-22, drivers must contact an insurance provider licensed in the state who can file this certificate with the DMV, proving the driver meets the minimum insurance requirements. This process is typically required for individuals who’ve had their driving privileges suspended or revoked due to serious violations such as DUIs. The SR-22 form serves as a pledge from the insurance company to the DMV that the driver has and will maintain the necessary insurance coverage.

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 $2,692 per year for full coverage, which is already higher than the national average of $2,542 per year. But the average annual California car insurance premium with a DUI is $6,128 for full coverage, a 127 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. Generally, the higher your risk, the more you’ll pay for car insurance. Finding the cheapest insurance in California can be challenging, especially if you have multiple tickets, accidents or major violations on your record, as these factors may categorize you 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.
    • To check your SR-22 status in California, you should directly contact your local DMV office. It can provide information on whether your SR-22 form has been filed for the required period. If the required time has elapsed, your next step is to reach out to your insurance company and request the removal of the SR-22 filing with the state. This process ensures that you remain compliant with California’s SR-22 requirements while keeping your driving privileges intact.