California requires drivers to carry insurance to cover the costs of damages and injuries to others in a car accident. The state requires drivers to carry a minimum of $15,000 of bodily injury liability insurance per person, $30,000 of bodily injury liability insurance per accident, and $5,000 of property damage liability insurance. This coverage is known as 15/30/5 coverage.
These minimums are far from enough coverage in many cases, though. In addition to liability coverage, drivers may want to consider adding extra coverage such as uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, which helps pay for damages and injuries caused by uninsured or underinsured drivers.
Let’s dive into the other California auto insurance requirements and look at the penalties drivers might meet if they don’t carry the right insurance.
California minimum car insurance requirements
Every California driver has to be able to show proof that they have insurance whenever they’re driving.
The four types of insurance that qualify in California:
- Motor vehicle liability insurance policy: A liability insurance policy can help pay the costs associated with injuring someone or damaging their vehicle in an accident. It’s meant to cover accidents that you’re found to be at fault for.
- Cash deposit of $35,000 with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV): Insurance is proof that you can handle financial expenses due to an accident. If you really don’t want to sign up for insurance, a cash deposit of $35,000 offers the same level of proof.
- DMV-issued self-insurance certificate: If you can prove that you have the financial means to be labeled “self-insured,” you can get a certificate from the DMV that you can use as proof of insurance.
- Surety bond for $35,000: If you can’t provide a cash deposit of $35,000, you can work with a company that can offer surety that they’ll pay in the event of an accident. The company must be licensed to do business in California.
Minimum liability requirements
Liability insurance is a type of insurance coverage that helps cover other drivers and their vehicles in the event that you cause an accident. All the states that require insurance policies will require liability in some form.
California car insurance laws require what’s known as 15/30/5 coverage. This means that drivers must have the following coverage limits at a minimum:
- $15,000 for injury or death to one person
- $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person
- $5,000 for damage to property
This is the bare minimum of coverage Californians need. These numbers mean you have to have a policy that covers up to $15,000 of bodily injury liability coverage for the bills associated with injuring another driver or their passenger while on the road.
If you injure more than one person, you have to have enough coverage to cover $30,000 worth of costs. You’ll have just $5,000 of property damage liability coverage to help with costs associated with any damage you do to another driver’s vehicle.
TipMany drivers opt for more than the minimum coverage requirements for additional financial protection in the event of an accident.
Penalties for driving without insurance
Driving without insurance in California is a punishable offense. The exact consequences for operating a vehicle without insurance depend on the number of times a person has committed the offense.
For the first offense, the driver will receive a citation, be fined, and may have their vehicle registration suspended. The fine for a first offense is a minimum fine of $100.
For subsequent offenses, the driver will be fined a minimum of $200 and up to $500. Additionally, the vehicle may be impounded, and the driver may be required to provide proof of insurance before the vehicle is released.
If your vehicle is impounded, you may also have to pay towing and storage fees in addition to the fines and costs associated with starting or reinstating an insurance policy.
It is important to note that driving without insurance can result in more serious penalties, such as having a driver’s license suspended, if the driver is involved in a traffic accident.
California Low-Cost Automobile Insurance Program
Although there are car insurance coverage minimums in place, the California government understands that not every driver can handle the financial obligation of meeting these minimums. So California has a program — the Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program — that helps low-income drivers stay on the road legally.
This program lowers the liability limits required by the state but doesn’t eliminate them altogether. You’ll still have to meet the following limits:
- $10,000 bodily injury or death per person
- $20,000 bodily injury or death per accident
- $3,000 property damage per accident
To qualify for the program, drivers need to meet certain requirements in terms of income and the vehicle they drive. You’ll have to meet all of the following requirements:
- Your annual income must be 250% or less of the federal poverty level.
- Your car must be worth $25,000 or less.
- You must have a valid California driver's license.
- You must be at least 16 years old.
- You must have a good driving record or be a newer driver.
For more information on the program, visit www.mylowcostauto.com.
Other types of coverage to consider
State minimum requirements are a way to cover basic costs associated with getting into an accident, but having just liability won’t do much for you in the event that you’re the cause of the accident. You may want to consider adding additional types of coverage to your policy.
Medical payment coverage helps to pay for any medical expenses you or your passengers experience as a result of an accident, regardless of who was at fault.
Comprehensive coverage helps to cover damage to your vehicle caused by something other than a collision. This can include theft, vandalism, tree damage, and fire, among other types of damage. This coverage is especially important for drivers who live in areas prone to natural disasters.
Collision coverage helps to pay for any damage to your vehicle caused by an accident, even if you’re at fault. It can help cover the difference between the other driver’s liability coverage and the cost of the damage done to your vehicle if you’re not at fault.
Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage
Uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage help cover the costs involved in an accident with someone who does not have insurance, or with someone who does not have enough insurance to cover the costs of the accident.
GAP insurance (guaranteed asset protection) is an optional type of coverage that ensures that a driver is reimbursed for the difference between the car's actual cash value (ACV) and the amount still owed on the vehicle loan if the car is a total loss. GAP insurance is particularly useful in California, where car values can quickly depreciate due to the state's weather and traffic conditions.
Does California require full coverage car insurance?
For drivers who lease or are financing their vehicles, dealers and lenders typically require a full coverage auto insurance policy. Because you don’t officially own the vehicle, the dealer or lender will want to protect their part in the deal in the event you get into an accident.
For drivers who own their vehicles, you aren’t required to cover anything beyond liability car insurance. The minimum liability amounts laid out in this article, but you may want to consider additional coverage if you can afford it.
Do you need a California driver’s license to get car insurance in California?
You have to have a valid driver’s license to hold auto insurance, but you don’t necessarily have to have a license from California in order to get insurance while living in California. If you’re living in California temporarily or have recently moved and haven’t switched your license, most insurance companies will still offer you a policy.
That said, many states require that if you’re moving permanently to a new state that you register your vehicle with that state’s DMV and that you get a new license in that state.
How much will car insurance cost in California?
There is no single answer to this question, as car insurance costs can vary significantly depending on factors such as your driving history, age, marital state, the type of car you drive, where you live, and more.
Generally speaking, the average cost of car insurance in California is around $1,700 per year according to The Zebra, an insurance comparison site. However, if you’re a young driver, have a poor driving history, or live in a densely populated area, you may find that you’re paying more for your car insurance. Conversely, if you have a good driving record, are an older driver, or live in a rural area, your car insurance rates may be lower.
California minimum car insurance requirements and other auto insurance laws are designed to protect drivers and ensure that all motorists on the road are properly insured. Failure to comply with these laws can result in hefty fines and even the suspension of a driver’s license.
By understanding these laws, drivers in California can ensure they’re properly insured and protected. To make sure you’re getting the best deal, get a few quotes from a few of the best car insurance companies in California.
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