The Ultimate California Car Insurance Guide (Costs + Coverage)
If need to know anything about California car insurance, you've come to the right place. California car insurance laws and California car insurance requirements are not too different than other states, but knowing the details and the specifics can keep you safe, protected, and from violating California auto insurance laws. Not only can we tell you about all the different CA car insurance laws and how they have changed over the years, but we can tell you how you can find cheap car insurance for any ZIP code in the state. You can see how different car insurance rates in Los Angeles are from rural CA auto insurance premiums, learn about all your auto insurance options, and find car insurance quotes personalized for you. Read on.
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UPDATED: Apr 29, 2021
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|California Statistics Summary||Details|
|Most Popular Vehicle||Honda Civic|
|Total Traffic Fatalities (2017)||3602|
|Average Premiums (Annual)||Liability: $490
Combined Premiums: $987
|Percent of Motorists Uninsured||15.2%
The Golden State is one of the most storied and sung about places in the United States. From Hollywood dreams to Disneyland fantasies, Silicon Valley start-ups to Napa Valley wineries, it's a place as varied as its people.
Although beaches are what most people picture when they think of California, residents know there's much more to explore. California includes miles of farmland, snow-covered mountain peaks, and stretches of desert that include Death Valley, the hottest place in North America.
California is a place for drivers. Californians even have their own way of referring to the many freeways - it's not I-5, it's the Five.
When you escape the city traffic, California's roads offer some of the most scenic drives in the world, not least of which is the Pacific Coast Highway.
Before you experience those views, you will need to make sure you've got car insurance. Every driver in California needs it, but no one wants to shop for it!
Shopping around for California car insurance is time-consuming, and it's hard to know when you're really getting a good value from your policy. Understanding all your auto insurance coverage options can be a real headache. It would be nice to have all of the information you need at your fingertips, right?
We have everything you need to know right here.
Read on for details on California's car insurance laws, insurance company ratings, vehicle and driver licensing, and a whole lot more. This is your comprehensive and complete guide to getting on the road.
Start your search for the best price on California auto insurance using our FREE rate comparison tool above!
California Car Insurance Coverage and Rates
California isn't the cheapest place to live, particularly if you call any of the big metro areas home. With housing prices through the roof, you're looking to save wherever you can, including on your car insurance, but without giving up the coverage you need.
That's easier said than done when you don't have time to figure out the details of coverage, research insurance companies, and make dozens of calls to get rates.
Don't worry, we have taken care of all of that for you.
Right here you'll find a simple breakdown of the coverage you need to have, your add-on options, and which car insurance companies are taking the best care of their California customers.
California's Car Culture
Over the past decade, California has been leading the charge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly emissions coming from fossil-fuel burning vehicles.
In our list of the best states to own an electric vehicle, it places 1st with 18 electric vehicle incentives, the highest number of electric vehicle registrations per capita, and a robust charging station infrastructure.
California Minimum Coverage
Here's the insurance you're required by California law to carry, at the very minimum.
|Coverage Type||Required Limits|
|Bodily Injury Liability Coverage||$15,000 per person
$30,000 per accident
|Property Damage Liability Coverage||$5,000|
The first thing you'll notice is that these minimum requirements are pretty low.
If you've spent much time in areas like Los Angeles or San Francisco, you'll know there are some high-end vehicles around. $5,000 in property damage covered isn't going to cut it if you total someone's brand-new Mercedes and you're at fault.
California is a tort state and you can be sued for damages.
So while these are the limits you have to carry in order to be legally on the road, it's a really good idea to carry higher limits in order to protect yourself from liability in an accident.
Forms of Financial Responsibility
Car insurance is the most common form of financial responsibility for drivers in the state, but there are a few ways to prove responsibility without an insurance policy.
California does allow for a certificate of self-insurance, which has to be issued by the DMV.
Alternately, you can make a cash deposit with the DMV in the amount of $35,000, or provide a surety bond in that same amount issued by a company licensed in California.
All of these will satisfy the financial responsibility requirement, but insurance still remains your best bet.
Whichever option you choose, make sure to carry proof of financial responsibility at all times when you're driving. You will be asked to provide that proof at a traffic stop or at the scene of an accident.
Premiums as a Percentage of Income
The cost of car insurance has been rising over the years, while average disposable income for Californians has fluctuated up and down.
The three-year trend below shows that the average percentage of disposable income spent on car insurance in California rose over three years by 6 percent.
|Year||Full Coverage Cost||Disposable Income||Percent of Income Spent on Car Insurance|
Californians are using more of their disposable income to pay for car insurance each year, but the percentage still falls below the national average of 2.40 percent for 2014.
It's also lower than neighboring states like Oregon and Arizona, where the average disposable income is lower, making for a higher percentage spent on car insurance.
Core coverage in California includes the liability portion of the policy along with comprehensive and collision. All together these three form what is known as a full coverage policy.
|Coverage Type||Average Annual Cost in California (2015)||National Average (2015)|
Although collision coverage costs more in California than the national average, overall rates come in below average.
On top of the liability insurance required by law in California, there are a couple of other add-on options you can choose for additional coverage.
Medical Payments (Med Pay) helps to pay for injuries to you and your passengers no matter who is at fault in an accident.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage is designed to kick in to cover you if you're involved in an accident in which the other driver is at fault but either has no insurance or not enough coverage.
15.2 percent of Calfornians drive without insurance, ranking the state at number 12 nationwide for uninsured drivers.
Additional liability can make dealing with the costs of an accident a lot easier on you.
Loss ratios, provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), tell us how much insurance companies are paying out compared to how much they earn in premiums.
A good loss ratio is neither too high nor too low. High means they are paying out too much and at risk of financial problems; low means they aren't paying out as much as they should.
|Medical Payments (Med Pay)||73%||69%||62%|
The three-year trend shows California's loss ratios on additional liability going down over time.
The national average for Med Pay loss ratios was 74.05 in 2014, and for UM/UIM it was 67.33. California came in lower on both types of coverage, indicating that car insurance companies should be paying out more claims.
Add-ons, Endorsements, and Riders
- Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP)
- Personal Umbrella Policy (PUP)
- Rental Reimbursement
- Emergency Roadside Assistance
- Mechanical Breakdown Insurance
- Non-Owner Car Insurance
- Modified Car Insurance Coverage
- Classic Car Insurance
- Pay-As-You-Drive or Usage-Based Insurance
Let's talk about that last option a little more. While many big-name companies in California have offered usage-based insurance programs for a while, there's a new kid in town - pay-per-mile insurance.
Usage-based car insurance is a program in which the car insurance company monitors your driving habits and gives you a discount based on the information they collect.
True pay-per-mile insurance, however, is a different animal. Metromile is the company that can generally be credited for popularizing it, and it's a California-based company. Under their program, you pay based on the actual number of miles you drive.
A couple of other companies have jumped on this bandwagon. Allstate and their subsidiary Esurance both offer a pay-per-mile program, but neither company offers the plan in California.
Demographic Rates: Male Vs. Female and By Age
Age and gender have long been two important rating factors used by car insurance companies.
In January of 2019, California passed a law stating that gender can no longer be used in calculating car insurance rates.
The new law is part of Prop 103 (more on that later), banning discrimination in determining rates.
The data below shows how rates have differed in the past based on gender; going forward with the new law we can guess that the rates will average out somewhere in between.
The biggest takeaway from the numbers below, however, has less to do with gender and more to do with age. Rates drop drastically from 17 to 25 years of age but seem to level off for drivers into their 30s and beyond.
|Company||Married 35-year old female||Married 35-year old male||Married 60-year old female||Married 60-year old male||Single 17-year old female||Single 17-year old male||Single 25-year old female||Single 25-year old male|
|Allstate Northbrook Indemnity||$2,921.24||$2,923.87||$2,126.03||$2,148.03||$8,098.88||$10,188.73||$3,742.44||$4,115.50|
|Farmers Ins Exchange||$2,715.31||$2,715.31||$2,451.83||$2,451.83||$8,667.08||$14,189.14||$3,218.46||$3,585.17|
|SAFECO Ins Co of America||$2,303.99||$2,177.93||$2,145.20||$2,077.01||$5,014.43||$5,348.46||$2,593.72||$2,620.60|
|State Farm Mutual Auto||$3,310.18||$3,310.18||$2,957.44||$2,957.44||$6,089.50||$7,555.39||$3,663.92||$3,777.69|
|Travelers Commercial Ins Co.||$2,497.45||$2,417.86||$2,206.26||$2,182.92||$5,165.60||$5,906.73||$3,249.64||$3,179.78|
|United Financial Casualty||$1,785.37||$1,837.82||$1,518.62||$1,802.64||$4,767.78||$5,748.65||$2,576.92||$2,771.33|
Highest/Lowest Rates by ZIP Code
Whether you live in the famous 90210 or a lesser-known area, your ZIP code will have an impact on your car insurance rates.
Search by ZIP code below to find out what rates look like in your part of California.
|25 Most Expensive Zip Codes in California||City||Average by Zip Code||Most Expensive Company||Most Expensive Rate||2nd Most Expensive Company||2nd Most Expensive Rate||Cheapest Company||Cheapest Rate||2nd Cheapest Company||2nd Cheapest Rate|
|90210||BEVERLY HILLS||$6,324.83||Nationwide||$8,533.47||Allstate||$8,190.66||Liberty Mutual||$4,414.40||USAA||$4,692.62|
|91606||NORTH HOLLYWOOD||$6,219.57||Allstate||$8,174.05||Farmers||$8,102.32||USAA||$3,931.76||Liberty Mutual||$4,611.35|
|90010||LOS ANGELES||$6,201.00||Nationwide||$8,610.21||Allstate||$8,225.60||USAA||$4,226.92||Liberty Mutual||$4,883.02|
|90211||BEVERLY HILLS||$6,199.34||Nationwide||$8,922.36||Allstate||$8,190.66||USAA||$4,245.23||Liberty Mutual||$4,439.85|
|91405||VAN NUYS||$6,198.55||Nationwide||$8,789.36||Allstate||$8,155.64||USAA||$3,931.76||Liberty Mutual||$4,683.16|
|91401||VAN NUYS||$6,073.88||Nationwide||$8,651.65||Allstate||$8,335.75||USAA||$3,828.03||Liberty Mutual||$4,506.46|
|90212||BEVERLY HILLS||$6,041.05||Allstate||$8,190.66||Farmers||$7,792.29||USAA||$4,245.23||Liberty Mutual||$4,539.22|
|91605||NORTH HOLLYWOOD||$6,034.64||Nationwide||$8,737.86||Farmers||$7,959.34||USAA||$3,808.95||Liberty Mutual||$4,383.46|
|90017||LOS ANGELES||$5,898.73||Allstate||$8,014.89||Nationwide||$8,005.94||USAA||$3,945.10||Liberty Mutual||$4,632.60|
|90077||LOS ANGELES||$5,878.05||Allstate||$8,190.66||Farmers||$7,517.86||Liberty Mutual||$3,925.51||USAA||$4,125.06|
|90069||WEST HOLLYWOOD||$5,844.28||Allstate||$8,276.46||Farmers||$8,037.83||USAA||$3,671.99||Liberty Mutual||$4,191.86|
That famous ZIP code we mentioned? It's expensive in more ways than one. 90210 has the highest average car insurance premiums of any ZIP code in the state. The other top ZIP codes are nearby, in parts of North Hollywood and Los Angeles.
|25 Least Expensive Zip Codes in California||City||Average by Zip Codes||Most Expensive Company||Most Expensive Rate||2nd Most Expensive Company||2nd Most Expensive Rate||Cheapest Company||Cheapest Rate||2nd Cheapest Company||2nd Cheapest Rate|
|93401||SAN LUIS OBISPO||$2,731.32||Allstate||$3,488.65||Nationwide||$3,336.13||Progressive||$2,177.96||Liberty Mutual||$2,285.77|
|93442||MORRO BAY||$2,807.97||Allstate||$3,396.50||Nationwide||$3,358.53||Progressive||$2,126.82||Liberty Mutual||$2,400.87|
|93402||LOS OSOS||$2,821.16||Nationwide||$3,411.51||Allstate||$3,392.02||Liberty Mutual||$2,324.69||Progressive||$2,336.39|
|93420||ARROYO GRANDE||$2,824.43||Nationwide||$3,543.40||Farmers||$3,404.34||Progressive||$1,980.83||Liberty Mutual||$2,298.66|
|93449||PISMO BEACH||$2,829.93||Nationwide||$3,707.40||Allstate||$3,450.72||Liberty Mutual||$2,283.28||USAA||$2,449.96|
|93433||GROVER BEACH||$2,834.19||Nationwide||$3,752.44||Allstate||$3,468.52||Liberty Mutual||$2,282.99||Progressive||$2,297.06|
The cheapest ZIP codes are found along the central coast in areas like San Luis Obispo, and in the far northern reaches of the state in towns like Weed.
Highest/Lowest Rates by City
A lot of cities have more than one ZIP code, which means that rates in a city can average out a bit.
The tables below show the average rates you can expect to pay in each city.
|10 Most Expensive Cities in California||Average by City||Most Expensive Company||Most Expensive Rate||2nd Most Expensive Company||2nd Most Expensive Rate||Cheapest Company||Cheapest Rate||2nd Cheapest Company||2nd Cheapest Rate|
|Beverly Hills||$6,188.41||Nationwide||$8,410.69||Allstate||$8,190.66||USAA||$4,394.36||Liberty Mutual||$4,464.49|
|Studio City||$5,649.18||Allstate||$8,225.60||Farmers||$7,795.23||USAA||$3,438.90||Liberty Mutual||$4,095.81|
Again, Beverly Hills tops the list, while Weed is the second-cheapest city for car insurance in California.
|10 Least Expensive Cities in California||Average by City||Most Expensive Company||Most Expensive Rate||2nd Most Expensive Company||2nd Most Expensive Rate||Cheapest Company||Cheapest Rate||2nd Cheapest Company||2nd Cheapest Rate|
|Los Ranchos||$2,731.32||Allstate||$3,488.65||Nationwide||$3,336.13||Progressive||$2,177.96||Liberty Mutual||$2,285.77|
|Morro Bay||$2,807.96||Allstate||$3,396.50||Nationwide||$3,358.53||Progressive||$2,126.82||Liberty Mutual||$2,400.87|
|Los Osos||$2,821.16||Nationwide||$3,411.51||Allstate||$3,392.02||Liberty Mutual||$2,324.69||Progressive||$2,336.39|
|Arroyo Grande||$2,824.43||Nationwide||$3,543.40||Farmers||$3,404.34||Progressive||$1,980.83||Liberty Mutual||$2,298.66|
|Pismo Beach||$2,829.93||Nationwide||$3,707.40||Allstate||$3,450.72||Liberty Mutual||$2,283.28||USAA||$2,449.96|
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California Car Insurance Companies
Californians have a lot of car insurance companies to choose from, and that's a good thing! It means the companies have to compete with each other for your business, which adds up to lower rates.
But a lot of companies can also mean confusion. Which ones can you trust to cover you? Is that low rate too good to be true? Which company is the best choice for my situation? If you have a lot of questions when it comes to car insurance companies, you are not alone!
Below you will find all the details on California car insurance companies in one place.
We've gathered ratings and rankings for the biggest car insurance companies in the state, and compared them on rates too across a variety of possible factors, all to make the choice easier on you!
The Largest Companies' Financial Ratings
What does a company's financial rating have to do with your car insurance policy?
Simply put, if a car insurance company isn't stable financially, they could find themselves unable to pay claims. Not what you want to hear when you've just been in a serious accident, which makes it a good thing to know before you buy a policy.
AM Best is the trusted source of financial ratings for insurance companies. They give each company a letter grade based on their stability.
|Insurance Company||A.M. Best Rating|
|Auto Club Enterprises||A-|
All of the biggest car insurance companies in California have good ratings of either excellent (A or A-) or Superior (A+ or A++).
Companies with Best Ratings
Another trusted source for car insurance company ratings is JD Power; while AM Best gives us financial ratings, JD Power gives us customer satisfaction ratings.
The top-rated company is actually USAA by the numbers, but JD Power leaves them off the rankings since they aren't open to the general public. That leaves Ameriprise in the number one spot and as the only other company to get a five out of five rating.
Of the ten biggest companies in the state, only Auto Club of Southern California earned an above-average ranking of four out of five. That goes to show that just because a company is huge doesn't mean all of their many customers are happy!
In fact, ranking at number two is small Canadian insurer Wawanesa, which only serves two U.S. states (the other one is Oregon).
Companies with Most Complaints in California
The California Department of Insurance publishes complaints data for car insurance companies. Of the top 50 insurance companies doing business in the state, here are the ten best and the ten worst by complaint ratio.
First, the 10 worst:
|Number of Justified Customer Complaints||Number of Complaints (2017)||Complaint Ratio (2017)|
|Permanent General Assurance||11||16.4|
Now, the 10 best:
|Number of Justified Customer Complaints||Number of Complaints (2017)||Complaint Ratio (2017)|
|Interinsurance Exchange of the Auto Club||42||1.8|
|Government Employees Insurance Co (Part of Geico)||8||2.0|
|21st Century Insurance||12||2.0|
The complaint ratio is really the important number here. It tells us how many complaints the company had compared to the number of policies they have in force.
A company can have a high number of complaints but a low ratio if they have a lot of customers.
This explains why the top two both have one complaint but different ratios; Amco has more policies in force than does California Capital. That means Amco has fewer complaints per customer.
If you don't see the company you're interested in above, you can use the Department of Insurance search tool to find a specific insurer's complaint data.
Cheapest Car Insurance Companies in California
The cost of car insurance is the number one concern for most people, so let's talk rates.
First, let's compare rates from the top 10 companies in the state by market share.
|Company||Average||Compared to State Average||Percent Difference From State Average|
|Allstate Northbrook Indemnity||$4,533.09||$843.47||18.61%|
|Farmers Ins Exchange||$4,999.27||$1,309.64||26.20%|
|SAFECO Ins Co of America||$3,035.17||-$654.45||-21.56%|
|State Farm Mutual Auto||$4,202.72||$513.10||12.21%|
|Travelers Commercial Ins Co.||$3,350.78||-$338.84||-10.11%|
|United Financial Casualty||$2,851.14||-$838.48||-29.41%|
USAA has the best rates, but you can't get insurance with them unless you have a military connection.
Of the companies open to the general public, both United Financial and Geico come in with similar rates nearly 30 percent below the average.
Rates By Company and Commute Length
Californians know commutes. Especially in the Los Angeles area and the Bay Area, commutes can be brutal. But how much more does it cost you to have a long commute?
Take a look at rates from some major insurance companies comparing two commute lengths.
|Companies||Average Annual Rates for|
6,000 Miles Annually
|Average Annual Rates for 25-Mile Commute
12,000 Miles Annually
Get Your Rates Quote Now
Rates do go up at every company, but in some cases, it's not by as much as you might expect.
Rates By Company and Coverage Level
We already noted that California's minimum coverage is really low, but can you afford higher coverage levels? We gathered rates for three levels of coverage from several companies to compare.
Take a look.
You'll notice that you can get a high level of coverage from companies like Geico and Progressive for a lot less than the cost of a low level of coverage from other companies, such as Farmers and Nationwide.
Shop around and you could get better coverage and still save money!
Rates by Company and Driving Record
Your driving record is a pretty big factor when it comes to your rates. Take a look at rates from several big companies for a clean record and each of three dings on that same record.
|Company||Clean Record||1 Speeding Ticket||1 Accident||1 DUI|
For most companies, a DUI is the most costly violation, but once again it's clear that anyone can save money just by shopping around.
Even with a DUI you can pay less at some companies than with a clean record at others!
Liberty Mutual and Geico both have lower rates for a DUI than Farmers has for a clean record.
Largest Car Insurance Companies in California
These companies are the biggest players in the car insurance market in California.
|Company||Direct Premiums Written||Percent of Market Share|
|State Farm Group||$3,910,351||14.34%|
|Farmers Insurance Group||$3,158,814||11.59%|
|Allstate Insurance Group||$2,446,564||8.97%|
|Auto Club Enterprises Insurance Group||$2,312,230||8.48%|
|Mercury Gen Group||$2,095,531||7.69%|
|CSAA Insurance Group||$1,950,257||7.15%|
|Liberty Mutual Group||$929,058||3.41%|
Number of Insurers in California
As of 2018, California has 99 domestic (incorporated in the state of California) property and casualty companies.
671 foreign (licensed in another state) property and casualty companies are also operating in California.
That's a lot of companies to choose from!
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California State Laws
California law covers a lot of ground, or in this case a lot of pavement. There are laws governing all of the angles of driving, from licensing and insurance to how to conduct yourself on the road.
Knowing all the laws as they stand is confusing enough, and keeping up with the changes as legislation is updated and tweaked is even harder. Especially when they're written in legal language that's dense and hard to read.
We have taken the complexity out of California's regulations. It's all outlined for you right here.
Read on for the details on insurance laws, driver and vehicle licensing, and the most common rules of the road everyone should know.
Car Insurance Laws
Let's start with a look at the car insurance laws in California, including options for high-risk drivers and insurance fraud.
How State Laws for Insurance are Determined
California's State Legislature determines the laws governing insurance, and they can be found in two main areas of the statutes.
Financial responsibility laws are found in the Vehicle Code, Division 7. These laws govern the minimum required amount of insurance as well as the penalties for failure to obey the law.
In 1988, Proposition 103 was enacted to place consumer controls on insurance company rating, including a mandated 20 percent discount for good drivers. Under Prop 103, rate changes require prior approval of the Department of Insurance.
California law doesn't require insurance companies to provide a specific windshield coverage endorsement, which means it's generally covered under comprehensive. Some companies may choose to offer a zero-deductible windshield endorsement or other option.
The law does require the insurance company to allow you to choose your own repair shop.
Insurance companies can use aftermarket parts, but they have to provide written notice, and the part has to be equal in fit, quality, performance, and warranty.
High-risk drivers are those whose driving record, or in some cases other issues, cause difficulty getting insurance through the usual avenues.
For drivers that have been turned down by insurance companies on the open market, California operates a high-risk driver insurance pool.
The California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP) assigns drivers to insurance companies, and from there the insurance company is required to write a policy for that driver. This spreads the high-risk driver risk around to multiple companies and also gets everyone insured.
After certain violations, including those where your license has been revoked, you will be required to file an SR-22.
An SR-22 is not an insurance policy or a type of insurance. It's a financial responsibility filing proving your compliance with the law.
Not all insurance companies handle SR-22 filings, but most do.
In 1999, California created a low-cost insurance program. California's Low-Cost Auto Insurance (CLCA) is available to those that meet the program requirements:
- Have a valid California driver's license
- Be at least 16 years of age
- Meet the program's income guidelines
- Own a vehicle worth less than $25,000
Automobile Insurance Fraud in California
Insurance fraud is a crime in California, and the state has taken measures to combat the issue.
The Fraud Division, a part of the Department of Insurance, is made up of sworn peace officers dedicated to investigating insurance fraud. Fraud can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or as a felony.
|Type of Crime||Jail Time||Fines||Other|
|Misdemeanor Fraud||Up to one year||Up to $10,000||Possible restitution|
|Felony Fraud||Two to five years||$50,000 or double the amount defrauded, whichever is greater||Possible restitution|
Several programs exist in California to deal directly with the issue of auto insurance fraud.
In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the district attorney made 1,094 fraud convictions with a total chargeable amount of $14,042,485.
Californians are urged to report suspected fraud to the Department of Insurance!
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations limits how long you have to file an auto insurance claim.
In California, the limit on injury claims is two years. For property damage claims, the limit is three years.
State Specific Laws
California has a couple of programs and laws on the books that are specific to the state, and designed to help consumers with the claims process.
The Automobile Claims Mediation Program is designed to help settle disputes between policyholders and insurance companies without the cost of lawsuits.
The Fair Claims Settlement Practices is a part of the California Code and mandates how claims should be handled in order to ensure fairness to both sides.
Vehicle Licensing Laws
This next set of laws covers licensing of drivers and penalties for breaking the law. We'll look at the laws and some important data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Penalties for Driving Without Insurance
It's illegal to drive without insurance in California. Here are the penalties you can expect to face if convicted:
|Penalties for Driving without Insurance|
|1st Offense||Fine up to $200 + penalty assessments
Possible vehicle impounding
|2nd Offense||Fine up to $500 + penalty assessments
Possible vehicle impounding
That's not to mention the cost of being sued for an at-fault accident with no insurance to help cover your liability.
Teen Driver Laws
Teen drivers are a high-risk group. Inexperience leads to mistakes, and those mistakes can be serious. California's Graduated Driver Licensing program helps to mediate inexperience by easing teens into the responsibilities of driving.
California's program has three levels of licensing.
|Type of License||Age||Requirements||Restrictions|
|Provisional Permit||15.5 years old||Complete or be enrolled in driver education|
Pass vision test
Pass written knowledge test
|May drive only with a parent/guardian/other licensed driver over 25 years old|
|Provisional License||16 years old||Hold permit for at least six months|
Complete driver education/training
Complete six hours of professional driver training
Complete 50 hours of practice, 10 of which were at night
Pass road test
|May not transport passengers under the age of 20 for the first three months, unless with driver over 25 present
May not drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. for the first 12 months, again unless a driver over 25 is in the car
|Full License||18 years old||None||None|
There are a few exceptions to the provisional license restrictions:
- Medical necessity
- School or school activities
- Employment necessity
- Family necessity
One last restriction that applies to all drivers under the age of 18: stay off the phone! All cell phone use, even hands-free, is against the law.
Older Driver License Renewal Procedures
All drivers in California must renew their license every five years, but there are two rules that apply specifically to drivers over the age of 70.
Drivers 70 and over must have a vision test at every renewal. That leads into the next rule, which is that drivers 70 and over must renew in person every time.
Following your California dreams? If you're moving to the Golden State, you need to get a California license. You have 1o days from the time of establishing residency to do so.
If you have a valid license from another state, you will only be required to take the written knowledge test in most cases. You'll also need to pay the fee, pass the vision test, have your fingerprints recorded, and get a photo taken.
If you have a driver's license from another country - including Canada and Mexico - you will need to pass a road test in addition to the written test.
License renewal procedures
Drivers license renewals are every five years, but you don't have to go in person every time (unless you're 70 or over as discussed above).
Eligible drivers can renew online or by mail for two consecutive renewals. On the third renewal, you will have to visit a DMV and have a vision test done.
That means you could theoretically go fifteen years without a visit to California's notoriously busy DMV offices.
Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS)
California's Negligent Operator Treatment System uses points to record violations of the law on your license.
If you have enough points to be considered a negligent operator, you will face penalties. Here's how many points it takes to have your license suspended for six months as well as one year of probation:
- 4 points in 12 months.
- 6 points in 24 months.
- 8 points in 36 months.
If you violate your suspension or probation, you will have your license suspended for a longer time period.
You will get one point on your license for violations like speeding, running a red light, or making an unsafe lane change.
Two-point violations include a DUI, reckless driving, or speeding over 100 mph.
Rules of the Road
There are a lot of rules of the road, but these are the ones you really need to be aware of.
Fault vs. No-Fault
California is a fault state. You can be held legally and financially responsible for an accident you cause.
Your insurance policy will only pay out on claims up to the limits you have chosen, and you will be responsible for any additional damages beyond those limits. Carrying higher coverage limits protects you financially from the cost of an accident.
Seat Belt and Car Seat Laws
Seat belts are required by law in California. No matter what seat you're in, everyone over 16 years old has to use a seat belt. The minimum fine is $20.
For kids 15 and under, other laws apply.
First, all children seven and under are required to be in the appropriate car seat, and they must all ride in the backseat.
Children 8 years old and up must be restrained in a safety belt as long as they are over 57" tall.
Here are the rules for child car seats in California.
|Car Seat Type||Age, Height, and Weight|
|Rear-Facing Seat||Under 2 yrs old
Less than 40 lbs
Less than 40" tall
|Forward-Facing Seat||2 to 7 yrs old
40" to 57" tall
|Booster Seat||Over 40 lbs|
|Adult Seat Belt||8 to 15 yrs old
You'll note that Calfornia has followed the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation and instituted a law requiring children under 2 years old to remain rear-facing.
The law came into effect in 2017.
Keep Right and Move Over Laws
California law requires that you keep right, or move over to let another vehicle pass on the left if you are traveling at a speed that is slower than the average speed of traffic around you.
The law also requires that you slow down and move over to pass an emergency vehicle on the side of the road, including tow trucks, unless it's not safe to do so.
California freeways are known for speedy drivers, but there are speed limits and they are enforced.
|Vehicle Type||Rural Interstates||Urban Interstates||Other Limited Access Roads||Other Roads|
California has specific laws for those who drive for companies like Uber and Lyft. Insurance is a particularly important area of concern.
Your personal insurance policy doesn't cover you when you're a ride for hire. When you're driving for personal use, that policy is fine, but as soon as you turn on the rideshare app, new rules are in effect.
|Driving Purpose/Time Period||Insurance Required||Covered By|
|Personal Use||California legal minimum||Driver's personal policy|
|App is active but rider not matched||$50,000 per person/$100,000 per incident bodily injury|
$30,000 property damage
Additional $200,000 excess liability
|50/100/30 by driver
$200,000 excess by company
|Rider in Vehicle||$1,000,000 liability||Rideshare company|
The takeaway from this information? The driver and company share the responsibility for meeting insurance requirements.
All drivers working for a rideshare service need to have an insurance policy that covers the extra liability. Currently, these companies offer that coverage in California:
- Liberty Mutual
- State Farm
California also recently passed a new bill (AB 5) that will affect rideshare drivers. AB 5 will result in most rideshare drivers being classified as employees.
If drivers are legally called employees rather than contractors, rideshare driving becomes more of a job than a quick way to earn cash on the weekends.
Automation on the Road
California law allows automated vehicles to be on the road. An operator is not required, but liability insurance is.
The minimum coverage for an autonomous vehicle is $5,000,000 in liability.
A few of the laws are designed to protect everyone on the road from drivers who may not be in complete control of the vehicle.
In California most DUIs are misdemeanors, but they can be charged as a felony depending on circumstances.
Here's a look at the penalties:
|Penalty Type||First Offense||Second Offense||Third Offense||DUI With Injury||Felony DUI||Felony DUI with Injury|
|Revoked/Suspended License||Four months||1 year with IID, 2 years without||2 years with IID, 3 years without||6 months with IID, 1 year without||Up to five years||1 year|
|Imprisonment||96 hours up to six months, min 48 continuous hours||96 hours up to six months, min 48 continuous hours||120 days to 1 year, with 48 hours continuous||5 days to 1 year||16 months to three years||16 months to 16 years|
|Fine||$390-$1,000||$390-$1,000||$390-$1,000||$390-$1,000, plus restitution||$390-$1,000||$1,015-$5,000, plus restitution|
|Other||$125 license reinstatement fee ($100 under 21) |
|DUI program |
A DUI is defined as a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or higher. A BAC level that is 0.15 or higher is considered high and may result in heavier penalties.
Marijuana-Impaired Driving Laws
Marijuana is legal for recreational use in California. Just like alcohol though, legal use doesn't mean you can drive.
Driving while impaired by marijuana carries the same penalties as a DUI in California. Since there is no legal limit for THC in the blood on the books, any amount of the drug, or even an officer's judgment that a driver appears impaired, can result in an arrest.
Distracted Driving Laws
It's illegal to use a cell phone while driving unless it's using a hands-free device. That applies to all drivers over 18 - as noted above those under 18 can't use a phone at all.
Texting while driving is also illegal for all drivers.
California Can't-Miss Facts
Enjoying the open road in California is one of life's great pleasures, but it does come with some risks. Watching the news can leave you with the impression that it's really dangerous out there, but how concerned should you really be?
It's hard to make sense of all the information out there, but we've gathered the facts you really need to know right here.
We'll cover the stats on stolen cars, serious crashes, and underage drinking and driving to paint a clear picture of the risks on California roads.
Vehicle Theft in California
In California, the Honda Civic and Accord are neck-and-neck for the most frequently stolen vehicle.
|Make & Model:||Vehicle Year:||Total Thefts:|
Take a look at how the vehicle theft statistics look in each city, based on the FBI's crime statistics for 2017.
Not surprisingly, the two largest populated areas, Los Angeles and the surrounding counties and the Bay Area, are the locations of the highest number of vehicle thefts.
|Del Rey Oaks||5|
|Desert Hot Springs||254|
|East Palo Alto||77|
|La Canada Flintridge||20|
|La Habra Heights||6|
|Los Altos Hills||1|
|Palos Verdes Estates||5|
|Rancho Palos Verdes||35|
|Rancho Santa Margarita||18|
|Rolling Hills Estates||8|
|San Juan Capistrano||32|
|San Luis Obispo||94|
|Santa Fe Springs||177|
|South El Monte||201|
|South Lake Tahoe||73|
|South San Francisco||207|
Dangers on the Road in California
Unfortunately, serious and fatal crashes happen on California's roads. There are a variety of factors that can contribute to a deadly crash, including weather and light conditions, speeding, and alcohol.
We've gathered information on these crashes from the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) to make sense of which dangers are impacting safety the most.
Fatal Crashes by Weather Condition and Light Condition
Almost half of the fatal crashes occurred in daylight under normal weather conditions and two-thirds before full dark and again in normal weather conditions.
|Weather Condition||Daylight||Dark, but Lighted||Dark||Dawn or Dusk||Other / Unknown||Total|
That leads to the question of what other factors contributed to these crashes.
Fatality Rates by City
Some areas may be more prone to crashes than others. Take a look at fatal crash data by county in California below.
|Contra Costa County||63|
|Del Norte County||6|
|El Dorado County||26|
|Los Angeles County||658|
|San Benito County||9|
|San Bernardino County||271|
|San Diego County||231|
|San Francisco County||25|
|San Joaquin County||116|
|San Luis Obispo County||34|
|San Mateo County||33|
|Santa Barbara County||39|
|Santa Clara County||105|
|Santa Cruz County||19|
Traffic Fatalities Rural Vs. Urban
Where do more crashes happen - the cities or out in the country?
Of the 3,602 fatal crashes in California in 2017, 1,401 were rural and 2,195 urban. Population density likely plays a role in these numbers, but they're common to most states; urban fatal crashes tend to outnumber those in rural areas.
Fatalities by Person Type
Passenger car occupants are the largest group of fatalities, but California also sees high numbers for motorcyclists and pedestrians as well.
|California Traffic Deaths by Person Type||2017|
|Large Truck Occupants||53|
|Passenger Car Occupants||1,269|
|Pick-up Truck Occupants||279|
|Utility Truck Occupants||336|
Fatalities by Crash Type
The numbers that stand out here are those that show most accidents were single-vehicle, as well as more than 1,000 speeding-related fatalities. Half of all fatalities involved a roadway departure,
|California Traffic Deaths by Crash Type||2017|
|Single Vehicle Crash||2,067|
|Large Truck Involved||361|
|Involving an Intersection||927|
|Roadway Departure Involved||1,588|
Five-Year Trend For The Top 10 Counties
Take a look at how the numbers have changed over five years for the ten counties with the most fatalities.
While the numbers show a generally increasing trend, notable is the drop in Los Angeles County from 2016 to 2017.
|Los Angeles County||625||639||651||837||658|
|San Bernardino County||262||285||260||273||271|
|San Diego County||198||233||246||243||231|
|San Joaquin County||93||83||98||119||116|
|Santa Clara County||95||106||133||114||105|
Fatalities Involving Speeding by County
Los Angeles County had the most speeding fatalities in 2017, not surprising given its population density.
|County||Speeding Fatalities (2017)|
|Contra Costa County||17|
|Del Norte County||1|
|El Dorado County||13|
|Los Angeles County||214|
|San Benito County||2|
|San Bernardino County||88|
|San Diego County||78|
|San Francisco County||5|
|San Joaquin County||35|
|San Luis Obispo County||13|
|San Mateo County||11|
|Santa Barbara County||18|
|Santa Clara County||29|
|Santa Cruz County||7|
Fatalities in Crashes Involving an Alcohol-Impaired Driver (BAC = .08+) by County
Again, Los Angeles tops the list for DUI fatalities.
|County||DUI Fatalities (2017)|
|Contra Costa County||22|
|Del Norte County||3|
|El Dorado County||7|
|Los Angeles County||192|
|San Benito County||2|
|San Bernardino County||76|
|San Diego County||78|
|San Francisco County||4|
|San Joaquin County||38|
|San Luis Obispo County||13|
|San Mateo County||6|
|Santa Barbara County||15|
|Santa Clara County||30|
|Santa Cruz County||5|
Teen Drinking and Driving
Teen drinking and driving has been a problem for as long as teens have been licensed.
California's DUI arrests for under-18 drivers are well over the national average, but DUI deaths under 21 are only slightly above average.
|Under 18 DUI Arrests (CA)||National Average||Under 21 Drunk Driving Death Rate Per 100,000 population (CA)||National Average|
EMS Response Time
Here's a look at how long it will take emergency medical services to reach the scene of a fatal accident and bring victims to the hospital.
|EMS Response Time in California|
|Time of Crash to EMS Notification||5 minutes 5 seconds|
|Notification to EMS Arrival||4 minutes 7 seconds|
|EMS Arrival to Hospital Arrival||21 minutes 24 seconds|
|Time of Crash to Hospital Arrival||35 minutes|
Californians do love their cars, which is good since they spend a lot of time behind the wheel.
We'll wrap up with California commuters by the numbers.
Two-car households are the most common, but more than 20 percent have three cars and more than 10 percent own four.
No Californian will be surprised to see that the average commute time is higher than the national average.
In spite of high occupancy lanes on many freeways, most Californians still choose to drive to work alone.
This may be partially due to the difficulty of using public transportation in huge metro areas like Los Angeles and surrounding counties, or the Bay Area.
Top X Cities for Traffic Congestion
California is home to some of the most congested cities in North America.
According to INRIX, Los Angeles takes the number five spot for traffic in the U.S., and 47th in the world. 128 hours are spent each day in congestion on average.
San Francisco ranks as the 8th most congested city in The United States and 65th in the world. Drivers there spend 116 hours in congestion a day on average.
TomTom ranks those cities a little differently, with LA and San Francisco landing in the number one and number two spots respectively in North America.
According to their data, drivers in LA will spend 62 percent more time in traffic during morning peak hours, and a whopping 84 percent during the evening peak.
Highway increase in extra travel time is 46 percent to 44 percent for non-highways.
Drivers in the City of Angels can expect 44 minutes of extra travel time per day and 170 hours per year.
Up in San Francisco, drivers add 39 minutes of travel time a day and 150 hours every year thanks to congestion.
During the morning peak hours, travel time increases by 55 percent, and 74 percent in the evening. Highways and non-highways have extra travel times of 34 and 44 percent respectively.
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