It’s expected that if you’re going to own and operate a vehicle in California, it’s properly insured. The amount of insurance you have that covers your own car is usually left up to you, but the state requires that you at least carry limited liability insurance so anyone else who is involved in the accident is protected.
The issue of car insurance in California is addressed in Vehicle Code Section 16029.
One of the interesting things about California is that while most drivers have auto insurance, other forms of financial responsibility that are legally acceptable while operating a vehicle in California include:
- A self-insurance certificate that’s issued by the DMV
- A surety bond for $35,000
- Proof of a cash deposit with the DMV of $35,000
If you’re pulled over and can’t present the traffic officer with one of these things, you are driving without insurance.
The first time you’re caught driving without insurance, you’ll receive a citation and have to pay a $100 fine. Additional fees connected to the citation mean your out-of-pocket expenses will be $450, and that’s just for not having insurance. It’s likely that whatever prompted the officer to pull you over, such as running a stop sign or speeding, will also result in a second costly infraction.
The second time you’re caught driving without insurance, the infraction increase to $200-$500, and in some cases, the additional total fees and penalty assessments can add up to as much as $2,500.
The ticket and massive penalties probably won’t be your only problem. Since an uninsured vehicle can’t operate in California, it’s highly likely that the police will have your car impounded. The only way you’ll get it back is if you pay the towing bill and impound fees. Unless you’re planning on having the vehicle towed back to your house, the impound lot will request to see your proof of insurance before the release of your vehicle.
Getting a ticket for not having auto insurance when you’re pulled over is bad, but it’s nothing compared to what happens if you’re in a car accident when you don’t have insurance. Not only will you be issued an expensive ticket, but it’s also highly likely that you’ll be named the defendant of a civil suit. Since you didn’t have any insurance at the time of the accident, if you lose the civil case, you’ll be responsible for paying the entire settlement.
Yes, car insurance is expensive and it can be hard to fit into the monthly budget, but considering the possible consequences, it’s something you should have if you’re driving.