Penalties for Driving Without Insurance in California

Driving without insurance in California carries penalties including fees up to $720 or more, possible vehicle impoundment, and even license suspension.
Written by R.E. Fulton
Edited by Kathleen Flear
Driving without the minimum required auto insurance in
carries fines and fees up to $720 or more, plus a possible suspension of your driving privileges if you caused a collision while uninsured. 
  • California requires all drivers to carry minimum liability insurance and imposes fines for drivers caught without it. 
  • Minimum liability insurance costs an average of $1,394 per year in California. 
  • For a first offense, you could be fined up to $100 and your vehicle impounded for driving without insurance in California. 
  • If you’re in an accident while uninsured, your license could be suspended and you can’t collect non-economic damages. 
  • Direct Auto, Progressive, and Allstate are some of the best car insurance companies in California after an insurance lapse. 
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  • $15,000 of bodily injury liability per person
  • $30,000 of bodily injury liability per accident
  • $5,000 of property damage liability

Penalties for driving without insurance in California

The official penalties for
driving without car insurance
in California fall into five main categories: 
  • Fines: California imposes base fines of $100 to $500 for driving without insurance, depending on the number of prior offenses and whether or not a car accident was involved. 
  • Penalty assessments: California’s fines aren’t very steep—but they come with penalty assessments that can more than double the overall cost of an infraction. 
  • Vehicle impoundment: Vehicle impoundment is not a mandatory punishment for driving without insurance, but either a police officer or the court may order it. 
  • License suspension: Your California driver’s license can’t be suspended for driving without insurance in a regular traffic stop, but if you’re involved in an accident without insurance, you’ll lose your license for at least one year. 
  • SR-22 filing: Drivers who are in an accident without liability insurance in California must maintain proof of financial responsibility by filing and maintaining
    an SR-22 certificate
    with the Department of Motor Vehicles (CA DMV) for at least three years. 
In addition to these official legal penalties, uninsured drivers in California face further consequences for failing to meet the state’s insurance requirements: 
  • Increased premiums after a coverage lapse: If you’ve got a gap in your insurance history, you can expect insurance providers to charge higher rates for at least six months. 
  • High-risk car insurance rates: Driving without car insurance will show up as an infraction on your California driving record, marking you as a high-risk driver. 

The best California insurance companies after a coverage lapse

We reviewed over 34,000 quotes from real customers to find the cheapest car insurance providers in California for drivers without a prior insurance policy: 
Insurance company
Average annual premium for drivers with no prior insurance
Embark General Incline
Direct Auto
National General
Aspire Insurance

If it’s your first offense (no accident)

The first time you’re unable to provide proof of insurance during a traffic stop, you’ll face the minimum penalties for driving without insurance: fines from $100 to $200 (plus penalty assessments), and the possible impoundment of your vehicle at the officer’s discretion. You’ll keep your driving privileges.
The average cost of a first infraction for driving without insurance is between $360 and $720. 

Subsequent offenses (no accident)

If you’re pulled over again and can’t show an insurance card or other evidence of financial responsibility, you’ll face fines of $200 to $500 (plus penalty assessments). The police can still choose to impound your vehicle, but you won’t lose your license. 
The average cost of a second (or subsequent) infraction for driving without insurance in California is between $720 and $1,800. 

If you’re in an accident without insurance

California car accident law
requires all drivers to provide proof of insurance coverage for any collision that causes at least $750 in property damage, or any accident that causes injuries or death. 
If you can’t provide proof of insurance—regardless of whether or not you were at fault—you’ll be subject to the following penalties on top of the fines outlined above: 
  • Mandatory suspension of your California driver’s license for one year (for a first offense) to four years (subsequent offenses)
  • Possible court-ordered vehicle impoundment 
  • SR-22 filing requirements in order to
    reinstate your California license
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California's No Pay, No Play Laws
If you’re in a car accident without insurance but not at fault in California, you’ll be able to file a bodily injury liability or property damage claim with the other driver’s insurance company. 
However, you won’t be able to file or sue for non-economic damages (e.g. pain and suffering). California’s no pay, no play law—
Proposition 213
of the California Civil Code—limits the ability of uninsured drivers to recover damages for anything other than vehicle repairs and medical expenses. 
The exception: If the at-fault driver is under the influence, California’s no pay, no play law does not apply. 
Read More

How to appeal a ticket for driving without insurance in California 

If you had an insurance policy that met California’s minimum insurance requirements at the time you were pulled over, but didn’t have the proof on hand, you can appeal your ticket by appearing in court with proof of insurance. 
Insurance can’t apply retroactively: Even if you bought insurance online immediately after receiving your ticket, it won’t undo your charge for driving without insurance. You can only make a successful appeal by proving that you had insurance when you were pulled over
Keep in mind: You will still need to pay certain administrative and legal fees if you choose to appeal your ticket. 
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What counts as proof of insurance in California?

California allows drivers to use physical or digital
proof of insurance
. In most cases, you should keep the physical insurance card you received when you opened your policy in your car at all times. However, most major insurers also offer a digital insurance card that you can access through your provider’s mobile app. 

What if I can’t afford my California car insurance premiums?

If you can’t afford the minimum liability insurance required by California law, driving uninsured will only add to your problems. Instead, look into the following solutions for low-income California drivers: 
  • California Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program (CLCA): The
    California Low Cost Auto
    insurance program offers cheap liability coverage to eligible California drivers who can’t afford minimum insurance. 
  • Assigned risk coverage: If you can’t find car insurance due to your high-risk status, you may be able to get liability coverage through the
    California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP)
  • Compare quotes to save:
    Comparing insurance quotes
    is the #1 way to find a policy you can afford, but nearly 50% of drivers never bother to compare.
With Jerry, you can get
free car insurance quotes
from dozens of California’s best car insurance companies in under a minute. 


If you drive without insurance in California and get pulled over by law enforcement, you can be fined up to $200 for a first offense, with additional penalty assessments as high as $520. Police can also choose to impound for vehicle. 
If you’re in an accident without insurance in California, you’ll face the same fines and possible vehicle impoundment, but your license will also be suspended for one to four years, and you will need to file an SR-22 certificate of insurance to get it back. 
No, you can’t go to jail for driving without insurance in California. The steepest penalty for driving without insurance in California includes fines, penalty assessments, vehicle impoundment, and a four-year license suspension. 
If it’s your first offense and you weren’t in an accident while uninsured, you’ll only have to pay a fine and possible costs from vehicle impoundment. 
Yes, your license can be suspended for not having insurance in California if you’re involved in a collision while uninsured. An accident while uninsured comes with a mandatory one-year license suspension for a first offense and four years for a second offense. However, if you’re pulled over and can’t provide proof of insurance, your license cannot be suspended. 
California requires all drivers to purchase minimum liability insurance with policy limits of at least $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident of bodily injury liability coverage and $5,000 per accident of property damage liability coverage. 
It’s illegal to drive without insurance in the state of California—but if you have a current insurance policy, you have a grace period of up to 30 days in most cases to update your insurance after purchasing a vehicle. 
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