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Car Insurance in California

Illustration of Car Insurance in California

With just over 15 million registered vehicles, sunny California has over 27 million licensed drivers on the road (nearly 10 million more than the #2 spot, Texas). Car insurance providers know this and what it means, and so should you. With so many drivers on the road, the chances for car accidents only increase. And that’s a fact that reflects on your premiums.

As a California driver, car insurance is required. The information below presents some of the most crucial elements about insurance you need to know before you get on the road. Learn more about general car insurance and the major types of car insurance. Continue reading below about how car insurance works and how you can find affordable car insurance in California.


Get Low-Cost California Auto Insurance

Quick Facts

  • Average premiums for full-coverage in California: $1,974
  • Average premiums for the legal minimum in California: $611
  • California law mandates a 20% good driver discount for qualified drivers.
  • The legal minimum coverage is liability coverage with limits of 15/30/5.
  • California is an at-fault, No-pay No-play state.
  • California roads are not the deadliest, but not the safest, with over 430,000 accidents reported in 2017 and over 3,600 fatalities in 2019.
  • 15.2% of its drivers are on the road without insurance.

How Much is Car Insurance in California?

What is the Average Premium in California for Full Coverage Car Insurance?

The average premium in California for full-coverage car insurance is $1,974 a year. Although higher than the national average, which is about $1,738, California premiums are not nearly the country’s highest. That title alternates between Michigan and Louisiana, whose drivers could be paying more than $2,700 a year.

How Much is it for Just the Minimum Required Car Insurance in California?

The average price for the mandatory minimum car insurance coverage in California is $611. That’s just about a third of the cost of full coverage.

At first, that sounds like a great deal. However, paying the least amount for the least coverage is a precarious situation for many drivers who don’t have enough cash savings to cover themselves and others if they wind up in an accident. Because California is considered an at-fault state, at-fault drivers are on the hook for compensating other drivers for their losses. This means drivers in an accident must insure themselves against losses for both themselves and others or expect to pay out-of-pocket.

How do Rates Compare Across Major Cities in California?

California is the third-largest state, with many diverse and populated metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Fresno. Compare the average car insurance premiums in these and other major California metropolitan areas.

City Population Average Rate
San Jose 1,027,690 $1,645
San Diego 1,409,573 $1,692
Fresno 525,010 $1,791
Bakersfield 377,917 $1,811
Anaheim 349,964 $1,944
Long Beach 466,776 $2,002
Sacramento 500,930 $2,004
Oakland 425,097 $2,053
San Francisco 874,961 $2,169
Los Angeles 3,966,936 $2,422

Is There a Good Driver Discount in California?

A benefit for responsible drivers is the Good Driver Discount policy. It was mandated by California Insurance Code – INS § 1861.025 and applies to all of California’s car insurance providers. Laid out in the law are qualifying requirements for drivers to purchase a Good Driver Discount policy. If you are eligible, you can receive a 20% discount on your car insurance premiums. The qualifying requirements are:

  • You must have been a licensed driver for the past three years. There are concessions if you’ve had a license outside the U.S., but you will have to obtain a U.S. driver’s license and hold a clean record for at least 18 months.
  • You must have no more than one driving point on your record in the past three years.
  • You have not taken traffic school as a result of traffic violations.
  • You have not had an at-fault accident that caused injury or death. However, it is possible that not-at-fault accidents can still award you driving points that can prevent eligibility.
  • You have no DUIs or other alcohol-related convictions on record. A mark for DUI on your record remains for 10 years before being erased.

If you believe you qualify for the Good Driver discount, talk to your insurance provider.

California Car Insurance Laws

Ensuring drivers are safe on the road is the first concern of California Car Insurance laws. Only second to that is providing a fair pricing balance between car insurance providers and policyholders.

California drivers can feel protected by the law in many ways. As mentioned above, the Good Driver Discount is significant, not just for your wallet but also for encouraging safe behavior. Additionally, as outlined below, there are mandatory car insurance requirements for everyone, so drivers are protected from other drivers.

However, it’s not uncommon for drivers to violate California law and may not insure themselves. By being responsible and informing themselves, drivers will know the limits of mandated protection and why everyone should follow the rules.

What are the Mandatory Car Insurance Requirements in California?

According to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, California’s minimum required insurance is liability insurance.

Liability insurance compensates a person other than the policyholder for personal injury or property damage. Comprehensive or collision insurance does not meet vehicle financial responsibility requirements.

Minimum Liability Insurance Requirements for Private Passenger Vehicles

  • $15,000 for injury/death to one person
  • $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person
  • $5,000 for damage to property

California also offers other options for insuring yourself other than an insurance policy from an insurance company. Here are all the other types of acceptable coverages:

  • Cash deposit of $35,000 with DMV, contact DMV Financial Responsibility Unit at (916) 657-6520.
  • DMV-issued self-insurance certificate.
  • Surety bond for $35,000 from a company licensed to do business in California. Contact the Department of Insurance at insurance.ca.gov or call 1-800-927-4357 to locate a company that issues surety bonds.

What Factors Does California Law Allow in Determining Your Premiums?

Drivers who want cheap car insurance want to know how their premiums are calculated. If you know what goes into a calculation, you can hope to control where your rate lands.

There are many common data points insurance providers use in determining an appropriate car insurance rate for you. Below are some of the most common and influential. Fortunately for drivers in California, insurance providers are allowed to base their calculations on the following factors, but not others that are considered potentially discriminatory.

  • Age
  • Education & occupation
  • Marital status
  • Zip code
  • Car type
  • Driving history

The following are other common insurance premium factors but are not allowed in the state of California.

  • Credit score
  • Gender

Combined with shopping around for car insurance quotes, you can influence your premiums by adjusting or improving any of the above factors.

What is the Penalty for Driving Without Insurance in California?

Because California law requires car owners to have a minimum amount of insurance coverage, there are penalties if you are found driving uninsured or without proof of insurance. You will most likely at least need to pay fines for violating the California law, but you could also have your vehicle impounded and have to pay more to retrieve it.

Driving uninsured and driving without proof of insurance are both violations. Not having proof when asked for it during a traffic stop or accident is an administrative violation akin to driving without a seat-belt. Both will result in a fine. The simple mistake of not carrying proof of insurance is quite steep—it’s a $900 fine. By paying a fine of $25 and showing proof in traffic court, you may be able to get the charge dismissed. Always be sure to have proof of insurance on you and in your car.

Driving uninsured, though, is much more costly.

Even if you are in an accident and not-at-fault, you will still be cited for violating car insurance law, charged a fine, and penalized on your driving record. Plus, you won’t have an insurance provider to advocate on your behalf with the other at-fault driver’s insurance company. You’ll be responsible for retrieving your compensation which could take weeks or months.

There are more complications for uninsured motorists. California operates by a pure comparative negligence system, which means each driver is only liable for their percentage of fault. But it goes by a more specific name, No-pay No-play. Even in a not-at-fault accident, being an uninsured motorist will work against you. No-pay No-play means that you are not entitled to any non-economic damages like pain and suffering because you are uninsured. You may be able to recover the costs of repairs, though.

The exception to the No-pay No-play rule: In California and other states, an uninsured driver can sue an at-fault driver if the at-fault driver was intoxicated at the time of the accident.

Driving without insurance and causing an accident will put a driver in an even worse situation. The driver will have to pay fines associated with violating insurance law. And, because California is an at-fault state, they will also be responsible for the injuries and damages they’ve caused to themselves and the others involved. This could mean expensive health and repair bills.

At this point, if you are uninsured, we ask you to consider the possibility of bankruptcy and your potential of surviving one.

Your first offense driving without insurance will require you to pay a fine of $100-$200 and any penalty assessments. Further, your insurance rate will increase on average by 35%, approximately $650, which is more than having purchased the minimum mandatory insurance from the start.

Still more, you’ll be required to submit an SR-22 form, known as a certificate of financial responsibility, required by the state to verify you are carrying at least the state-mandated amount of car insurance.

Within three years of the initial offense, repeated offenses will fetch a fine of $200-$500 and penalty assessments.

These substantial penalties are there to encourage you to get insurance. Considering the enormous costs of penalties and liability, not having insurance is a very risky position in which to be.

Am I Required to Report an Accident in California to Authorities?

The short answer is: if someone is injured or killed due to a car accident you are involved in, you must make a written report within 24 hours of the accident.

According to California Vehicle Code section 20008, the report must be made with the California Highway Patrol or the City Police where the accident occurred. Although, if you file with any of those agencies, they will forward the matter to the proper jurisdictional authority for appropriate investigation.

Not reporting an accident is a misdemeanor. Failure to report a “reportable” accident could land you in jail for up to 6 months and lasso you with fines of $1,000 or more.

In such cases of injury or death, you will also need to inform the DMV. If no one is injured, but there is more than $1,000 worth of damages to vehicles or property, you will need to notify the DMV within 10 days.

Generally, there are no state laws that require you to inform your insurer about an accident; however, most providers have stipulations within their policies that require you to report any accidents. If you do not report within the timely manner laid out in the policy, then the insurer may have the right to cancel your policy. Likely, they will require a report within 24-48 hours.

Informing your insurance provider can work in your favor. Insurers want to get ahead of any claims that may come out of your accident. In order to give the best defense, they need to be informed as soon as possible. They can even help file the proper reporting paperwork with the state.

What is an SR-1 California Traffic Accident Report?

The DMV SR-1 California Traffic Accident Report is a required form by the California Vehicle Code that reports on the details of a traffic accident that result in injuries, death, or more than $1000 in damages. It can be filed by you, your legal representative, or your insurance agent, and it must be filed within 10 days of the accident, regardless if you are at-fault or not.

What is Driving Like in California?

How Many Car Accidents Happen in California?

Sadly, car accidents are the leading cause of most unintentional deaths in California. According to the latest statistics, 3,316 fatal accidents were reported in 2019 (3,606 deaths occurred from those deadly accidents). Glady, there has been progress in reducing those numbers. The number of fatal accidents has dropped from 3,898 in 2017 to where it is now, a 16.14% decrease. However, 2017 also saw 485,866 car accidents, and 276,823 injuries came out of those accidents.

Take a look at accidents by county.

County Accidents
Los Angeles 91,468
Orange County 23,103
San Diego 21,534
San Bernardino 16,263
Riverside 15,551

These numbers are frustrating because many of these accidents could have easily been prevented. In 2017, 625 of those deaths happened to occupants not wearing a seat belt. Even more disturbing, approximately 42% of drivers killed in a car accident tested positive for some form of legal and/or illegal drugs. Help maintain safe roads by buckling up and not driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

What these numbers may also mean is the chances are good that if you are in a car accident, then you will survive. But, the problem with surviving with injuries is surviving with injuries. Be prepared. Ask yourself: What does surviving mean for your personal recovery, financial stability, and recouping your losses?

How Many Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists are in California?

California reports that upwards of 15.2% of its drivers are on the road without insurance. Potentially 1 out of every 7 people driving on California roads next to you does not have insurance. Covering yourself with Uninsured Motorist Insurance will keep you protected.

FAQs About California Car Insurance

I am a Low-Income Driver. What can I do About Getting Cheap Car Insurance in California?

California law requires that all drivers have insurance, but it may be too expensive for certain groups of people to get the mandatory minimum. In 1999, the California legislature established California’s Low-Cost Automobile Program (CLCA) to help eligible people get affordable car insurance. CLCA liability policies sell at reduced premiums ($300-$500) and have coverage limits of 10/20/1.

Can an Undocumented Worker get Cheap Car Insurance in California?

Yes. California is one of the few states that allow undocumented workers to obtain a special driver’s license. Generally, insurance companies cannot insure a person who does not have a driver’s license. By obtaining the AB 60 driver’s license, an undocumented worker can get a quote from an insurance provider.

AB 60 driver’s licenses (DL) are for individuals who are unable to provide proof of legal presence in the United States (U.S.), but who meet California DMV requirements and can provide proof of identity and California residency.”

Is it Possible to Get Cheap Car Insurance in California with a DUI Mark on my Record?

Yes. Although, in California having a DUI mark on your record makes you a high-risk driver. You will need to find insurance from an insurer that specializes in high-risk policies. If you cannot find insurance on the open market, the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP) is a non-standard insurance market that works with high-risk drivers.

Get a California Car Insurance Quote Today!

Picture of a traffic jam on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
It’s more than just a legal requirement. Insurance is an inexpensive way to protect yourself from the tremendous risks of daily driving in California. Don’t let yourself be bogged down with substantial medical expenses and car repair bills that often result from collisions. Get started with a quote online, visit us at a California office near you, or call us at (800) 777-5620 for a quote.