In California the penalties for driving without insurance (failing to show proof of financial responsibility) can include fines up to $500 plus penalties such as impoundment of the vehicle and suspension of the driver's license. If the vehicle is impounded the owner will have to pay for all storage and tow charges as well.
Any fines and penalties for driving as an uninsured motorist are on top of the citation, penalties and points connected to any citation you may have received for causing the accident (such as failing to yield).
The consequences can be far more serious if you are involved in an accident and do not have insurance.
The purpose of the Compulsory Financial Responsibility Law, which is covered in the California Vehicle Code section 16000 to 16078, is to ensure that drivers and owners of vehicles are financially responsible for any damage or injury caused by a traffic accident, regardless of fault, and to remove financially irresponsible drivers from the highways.
If you drive a motor vehicle, whether you own it or not, or if you own a motor vehicle, even though you may not drive it yourself but allow others to drive it, you must maintain in force one of the forms of financial responsibility specified by CA law. The usual method of financial responsibility is liability insurance, but a surety bond or a cash deposit of $35,000 made with the CA Department of Motor Vehicles are acceptable alternatives (CA VC 16056 and 16054.2).
If you were the driver or owner of a motor vehicle involved in an accident which resulted in property damage in excess of $750, bodily injury or death, regardless of who was at fault, you must report the accident and provide evidence of financial responsibility to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The report must be made on the Report of Traffic Accident Occurring in California form (SR-1) and the report is due within 10 days of the accident. This is in addition to any other report made to the police, California Highway Patrol, or your insurance company. To meet the financial responsibility requirements, your automobile liability insurance must provide at least the minimum coverage: $15,000 for a single injury or death; $30,000 for injury to, or death of, more than one person; and $5,000 for property damage, in any one accident.
If you do not report the accident to the DMV as required by this law, or if you do not provide evidence of financial responsibility in effect at the time of the accident, your driving privilege will be suspended according to the CA DMV.
If you were uninsured at the time of the accident your driving privilege will be suspended. You will not be eligible for reinstatement until one year from the date the suspension begins. Thereafter, for a period of three years, proof of financial responsibility is required as a condition of reinstatement. If proof is canceled for any reason during the three-year proof requirement, your driving privilege will be suspended, effective upon notice.
If you change insurance companies, be certain your new proof is on file before canceling the old policy. If you were not insured at the time of the accident and your employment requires driving, you may legally drive your employer's vehicles during the course of your employment if the vehicles are not registered in your name per VC 16073. This provision does not apply to individuals who hold a commercial driver license (CDL).
During the mandatory one-year suspension, you may apply for one or more of the following restrictions:
- A restricted license for driving to and from, and during the course of your primary employment.
- A restricted license for driving yourself or an immediate family member to and from medical treatments for a serious medical condition.
- A restricted license for driving a minor dependent to and from school (K-12) when no other transportation is available.
The restrictions require proof of financial responsibility payment of a single penalty fee of $250 and, if needed, a $55 reissue fee. (The $55 fee is not required if all requirements for a restricted license are met by the suspension date.) An application form must be completed and approved by the department. Commercial drivers are not eligible for restrictions.
After one year the restriction(s) will end. You may apply for a duplicate license if you desire a license without restriction notation(s). If your proof of financial responsibility is canceled for any reason during the proof requirement period, your driving privilege will be re-suspended until acceptable proof is again filed
The usual method of showing proof of financial responsibility is to provide a California Insurance Proof Certificate (form SR-22/SR-1P) from an insurance company authorized to do business in California. The types of coverage on the form SR-22/SR-1P are listed below:
- SR-22: A motor vehicle liability policy may be provided to cover only vehicles registered in your name (owner's policy), only vehicles you do not own (operator's policy), or all vehicles whether you own them or not (broad coverage). This certificate is acceptable for any DMV actions requiring proof of financial responsibility.
- SR-1P: An automobile liability policy or a liability policy for vehicles with fewer than four wheels.
This certificate is acceptable after an accident without insurance, for negligent operator sanctions per VC 12810.5, for an application by a minor requiring proof (VC 17705), or for a nonresident minor's certificate (VC 12504).
To obtain a California Insurance Proof Certificate you will need to contact an insurance agent. The CA DMV notes you should not submit a copy of your policy or your insurance application, as it cannot be accepted in place of the California Insurance Proof Certificate. If necessary, persons unable to obtain this insurance coverage through their regular insurance company may have any insurance agent or broker make an application to the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan.
The CA DMV also notes that if a vehicle is involved in an accident and the driver of the vehicle cannot be identified, any required suspension will be taken against the registered owner. If the owner adequately identifies the driver, the suspension will be removed from the owner and placed against the driver (VC 16020-21 and 16070a). If a parked vehicle rolls away and causes an accident, the registered owner is subject to suspension if the vehicle is uninsured (VC 16001).
If you fail to satisfy a civil judgment rendered against you for an accident, you could be subject to suspension under the Unsatisfied Judgment Law (CA VC 16370 and 16370.5). CA Vehicle Code 16371 states that license suspension shall remain in effect, and no license shall be issued to the judgment debtor until the judgment debtor gives proof of financial responsibility and until either the judgment is satisfied in full or to the extent provided in this chapter (meaning a payment plan).
So if you were uninsured at the time of the accident your driving privilege will be suspended however you will be eligible for reinstatement 1 year from the date the suspension begins. During this suspension of your driver's license, required under the CA Financial Responsibility Law because of an uninsured accident, you can request a non-commercial restricted license though you will need to file a SR22.
If you do not pay for the damages you caused and a judgment is placed against you that you do not pay in full or through an agreed upon payment plan then the DMV can also suspend your license. This type of suspension appears to be able to stay in effect until you the debt is paid or an installment payment plan is agreed upon.
If you were at-fault in an accident in California and were driving without insurance at the time than your license should be suspended. For information on how long the suspension will be due to your specific situation contact the CA DMV. This state agency should also be able to tell you if you can apply for a restricted license and at what point in your particular suspension period this is allowable.