California Car Insurance Laws

Auto insurance requirements in California

Auto insurance is required in the state of California. Furthermore, all motorists must carry proof of coverage while driving. Those who drive without proper insurance coverage are left at risk and could face steep penalties. If you’d like to learn more about car insurance options and required coverages in California, consult our guide.

Minimum Liability Coverage: 15/30/5
  • Bodily injury $15,000 per person
  • Bodily injury $30,000 per accident
  • Property damage $5,000 per accident

 

These limits are only those mandated by the state of California. If you finance or lease your vehicle, you could face additional requirements from a lender or leasing company. This typically takes the form of physical damage coverage, typically referred to as full coverage

 

Liability coverage in California

California requires all drivers to carry liability coverage. This coverage pays for bodily injuries and property damage you cause in an at-fault accident. Liability will also go toward paying an injured party’s lost wages or pain and suffering. It’s important to note that your own liability coverage never pays for your injuries or damages to your own property.

 

What are state-mandated car insurance limits?

The total amount that your car insurance company will pay is determined by the limits that you set. A limit is simply the maximum amount that an insurer will pay out for a claim. Every state determines its own liability coverage limits, though they are almost universally split into the following three categories: bodily injury per personbodily injury per accident, and property damage. In California, that minimum is listed as 15/30/5 and explained below:

  • $15,000 in bodily injury coverage per person is the maximum amount your insurer will pay for a single person injured by you in an auto accident.
  • $30,000 in bodily injury coverage per accident is the maximum dollar amount that will be paid for all injuries that you cause in an accident in which more than one person is hurt.
  • $5,000 in property damage per accident is the highest amount that an insurer will pay for damage that you cause in an accident.

 

Do California’s required minimums provide enough coverage?

California’s car insurance requirements are somewhat lower than most other states. This means that carrying the bare minimum coverage is not likely going to keep you fully protected. Emergency care costs can quickly drain your bodily injury limits with even light to moderate injuries. Likewise, the $5,000 property is barely a drop in the bucket when compared to the cost of an average new vehicle. This could leave you on the hook for all unpaid damages.

Be aware: the state of California requires no coverage for your own vehicle. Therefore, if your aim is to be fully protected, adding extra coverage or increasing your current limits can be a smart idea.

 

California’s penalties for driving without proof of insurance

Those found guilty of driving with no insurance in California can expect the following penalties to apply:

  • First offense: A fine between $100 and $200 
  • Second (and subsequent) offense: A fine between $200 and $500
  • Filing of an SR-22 certificate
  • Possible suspension of the vehicle’s registration or license
  • Reinstatement fees

 

California DUI penalties

California's lookback period is 10 years. Repeated DUI offenses within this period will lead to more severe fines and penalties.

First-time DUI offenses in California will result in:

  • Fines of $390 to $1,000
  • 48 hours to six months in jail
  • License suspension for six months
  • The possible requirement of an interlock ignition device for five months to three years
  • Attendance in a DUI program (length determined based on BAC)

A second DUI offense in California leads to:

  • Fines of $390 to $1,000
  • 96 hours to one year in jail
  • License suspension for two years
  • The possible requirement of an interlock ignition device for one to three years
  • 18 to 30 months in a DUI program

A third DUI conviction in California results in:

  • Fines between $390 and $1,800
  • 120 days to one year in jail
  • License suspension for three years
  • Mandatory IID use for two to three years
  • 30 months in a DUI program

Judges may choose to forego jail time in lieu of probation, particularly for first-time DUI offenders. Additionally, offenders may serve time via house arrest or alternative work programs instead of jail.

First-, second- and third-offense DUI convictions are usually considered misdemeanors. If a DUI in California results in injury, however, it may be treated as a felony. Causing a fatality by driving under the influence is generally prosecuted under California's vehicular manslaughter or murder laws.

 

Optional car insurance coverage in California

California law requires liability coverage in order to be a legal driver. However, motorists should consider the wide range of coverage options offered by most insurance carriers in order to expand their coverage. Below is a list of some of the more commonly available options:

  • Comprehensive: A coverage that pays for damage to your vehicle caused in non-collision circumstances like theft or damage related to weather events. 
  • Collision: A physical damage coverage that pays for damages stemming from a collision with another vehicle or stationary object. 
  • Loan/lease payoff: Also known as gap coverage, this can help to pay the difference between what you owe on a vehicle loan and your car’s actual cash value.
  • Medical payments: If you are in an accident, this coverage goes towards paying your medical expenses as well as those in your vehicle. 
  • Rental car reimbursement: If your car is unable to be driven, this coverage will help pay for a rental car until yours can be fixed. 
  • Roadside assistance: Roadside assistance coverage can help when you breakdown or find yourself with a flat tire, dead battery, or in need of a tow.
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: This coverage helps pay for your injuries if you are harmed by an insured — or underinsured — driver.

 

Why adhering to California’s car insurance requirements is important

Carrying car insurance in California is mandatory for all drivers. Not only is this coverage a legal requirement, but it’s an important way to protect yourself and your assets. In fact, adding more coverage or increasing your current limits is highly recommended. Those concerned about the potential rise in premiums may be time to shop for cheaper auto coverage. Enter your ZIP below to let The Zebra give you the opportunity to see side-by-side insurance quotes from the nation’s top carriers.

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Ross MartinManager, Content Quality

As a licensed insurance agent, Ross has spent the last three years with The Zebra researching and writing insurance content aimed at helping shoppers make informed decisions.

Ross's background is in writing and education. He holds a master's degree from Royal Holloway, University of London.

Ross's work has been cited by The New York Times, Investopedia, The Simple DollarThe BalanceCar and Driver and Fox Business. He has been quoted by CNET, I Drive Safely and Kin Insurance