Traffic Law

Uninsured Driving Laws in California

We all know it’s not cheap to live in California. In 2018, CNBC ranked it as the second-most expensive state in the country (Hawaii was first). While Los Angeles is plenty pricey, the San Francisco Bay Area is actually the most expensive place in the state. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive cities in the country.


Paying the rent in California can get so pricey that you’ll be tempted to cut costs in other areas. Bringing your lunch to work is one way to do that, but letting your car insurance lapse is not. Here’s what you should know about uninsured driving laws in the Golden State.


Car insurance minimums


California requires every driver to have insurance, but they also require a minimum amount of insurance. If they didn’t, there would undoubtedly be people who tried to buy plans that covered them for, say, $5 worth of damage. That’s not even going to replace the other guy’s rearview mirror if you’re in an accident. So in California, you need a certain amount of civil liability insurance.

To cover property damage, you need a minimum coverage amount of $5,000. That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually not. The bodily injury minimums are even higher. Your insurance policy should have at least $15,000 worth of personal injury coverage for the injury or death of one person, and $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person. “More than one person” is the critical phrase here, as it applies regardless of how many other people were in the car. There could be one additional person in a sports car or five additional people in an SUV.


There are some people who resent being told by the state that they have to purchase insurance. Technically speaking, there are other ways to prove you can bear the financial burden of causing a crash. But insurance is the simplest way to meet the requirement for what California calls “evidence of financial responsibility”. It’s much simpler than depositing $35,000 cash and bringing a receipt to your local Department of Motor Vehicles. There may be some rich and eccentric drivers who prefer that route. The rest of us are better off just paying our car insurance premiums.


Getting pulled over without insurance


Your rent went up two months ago, right around the same time that you needed emergency dental work. After all that, you didn’t have enough money to cover your insurance premiums, and now your car is not insured. If an officer pulls you over, you should be prepared to get a ticket for not having insurance.


Driving without insurance California may feel like the fiscally responsible thing in the short-term. You may even feel like you don’t have a choice. But the officer who pulls you over will see things differently. As far as penalties for driving without insurance go, the Golden State’s aren’t the most severe in the nation. But they’re still not exactly fun. On your first offense, you can expect to be charged a fine of between $100 and $200.


But that’s not all that will happen. Your car will also be impounded, and you won’t be able to get it back until you provide proof of financial responsibility. That may sound unfair, but California has a vested interested in making sure there are as many insured drivers as possible on the roads. That’s why the penalties are even more severe if you get in a car accident without insurance.


When that happens, you should be prepared to lose your license for at least a year. Driving without insurance in California is a risk to both your financial and physical well-being, and it’s not worth it on either count.

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