Penalties for Driving Without Car Insurance in California

Police officer making a traffic stop
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California is well known for its high cost of living. Because of this, some drivers might be tempted to cut costs by getting rid of their auto insurance coverage. If you do this while continuing to drive, you risk the chance of big penalties if you are caught.

Canceling your car insurance to save some money can be a great idea. But this is only true if you're planning to stop driving, opting instead for public transit or a local carpool. Driving without insurance puts many people at risk: not only yourself but other drivers as well. It's not something you should leave up to chance.

While driving without insurance in California has less severe penalties than it does in other states, it’s still illegal unless you have a lot of money lying around to self-insure. It's not worth the small amount you will save to go without insurance otherwise. Let's look at the costs you could incur if you dare to drive without auto insurance.

Key Takeaways

  • While driving without insurance in California has less severe penalties than it does in other states, it’s still illegal unless you're planning to self-insure.
  • If you're caught, you will be fined anywhere from $100 to $200 for a first offense and between $200 and $500 for a second offense.
  • If you're responsible for an accident, you will have to pay all costs involved; this can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars.

What Are the Legal Penalties for Driving Without Insurance?

California is often seen as a leader when it comes to penalties for any number of criminal or civil violations. But this is not the case when it comes to uninsured drivers. Compared to the nation as a whole, California’s penalties are rather tame. But that does not mean that you won’t feel the sting.

In lieu of a traditional insurance policy, California drivers can obtain a self-insurance certificate from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This most often requires the driver to provide evidence of a $35,000 cash deposit. This can be done either directly with the DMV, or through a surety bond with a business.

Drivers that are caught without valid insurance or a self-insurance certificate will be fined anywhere from $100 to $200 for a first offense. It could be between $200 and $500 for a second offense. While $100 may not sound like much, with additional penalties and fees, that $100 may end up costing you closer to $450.


These rules apply to California residents and those from out of state merely driving through.

Also, your car may be towed away. In this case, you will not be able to get it back until you get insurance and pay all towing and storage fees; these can be substantial.

What Are the Legal Penalties for an Accident?

An auto accident can be traumatic, no matter how severe or who is injured. If you are involved in a crash in California, pull off the road, stop, and call 911. Report the accident to the police or the California Highway Patrol. When the police arrive, you must show them your driver’s license, car registration, and proof of insurance.

If you don't have valid insurance or proof of financial responsibility, you're going to have some trouble. In California, your license could be suspended for up to four years. Bear in mind that this can happen whether or not you are at fault.


If you get caught driving without insurance, you will also be required to get an SR-22 Proof of Financial Responsibility certificate. Then, you will have to carry an extra high-cost SR-22 policy on top of your normal one.

Civil Costs for an Accident Without Insurance

Legal penalties are one thing. What about the cost of the accident itself? If you are the party at fault, then you are responsible for the cost of all resulting damage. And that means everything: damage to all cars involved and all medical costs for yourself, the other driver, and any third parties. You are also responsible for damage to other public and private property. This includes street signs and lights, bus stops, storefronts, and more.

You should not rely on the other driver having uninsured motorist coverage to make up for you, either. If you have assets, the other driver’s insurance company is likely to sue you to recover their costs.

For example: Suppose you get into an accident that is your fault. It results in tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Let's say you have no car insurance, but you own a home with $100,000 in equity. You can expect the other party’s insurance company to sue you to recover the thousands it paid out to their client. If you can’t pay up, you may lose your home.

The Bottom Line

What should you do if you're caught driving without insurance in California? It may be a good idea to contact an attorney for advice on how to proceed. But the bottom line is: If you’re thinking about driving without valid insurance, don’t do it.

The risk is too high, and the penalties are too severe. If you are looking to save money, you may be able to reduce some of your coverage or increase your deductible. Just don't risk driving uninsured.