When driving a State of California registered vehicle, insurance is required. The following minimum coverage is required in California:

California Vehicle Code 16430

  • Auto Insurance policy with limits of at least 15/30/5 – meaning:
    • Liability coverage
    • $15,000 of bodily injury to another person
    • $30,000 of bodily injuries to all other persons in one accident
    • $5,000 of injury to or destruction of property of others in any one accident

In order to help low-income drivers with good driving records obtain insurance, California offers the California Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program (CLCA). The Department of Insurance provides a hotline for any questions about CLCA — 1-866-60-AUTO-1. The minimum requirements under this program are:
California Vehicle Code 16056.1

  • Auto Insurance policy with limits of at least 10/20/3 – meaning:
    • Liability coverage
    • $10,000 of bodily injury to another person
    • $20,000 of bodily injuries to all other persons in one accident
    • $3,000 of injury to or destruction of property of others in any one accident

In order to be eligible for CLCA, the following requirements must be met:

  • Be at least 19 years old
  • Have a valid driver license for at least the last three consecutive years
  • Possess a vehicle with a value of no more than $20,000
  • Less than two accidents in which the driver is at-fault for property damage only, OR less than two points for moving violations in the last three years
  • No felony or misdemeanor convictions in violation of the Vehicle Code
  • Meet the income requirements

Although policies such as personal injury protection, collision, comprehensive are not required by the state of California, many drivers choose to purchase one or more in order to cover any expenses they may accumulate from an accident.

Alternative Options to Insurance:

Certificates of Self-Insurance are available in California if the following requirements are met:
California Vehicle Code 16053

  • You or your company must have at least 26 registered vehicles
  • You must qualify by application through the California Department of Motor Vehicles
    • Driver License
    • Department of Motor Vehicles
    • P.O. Box 942890
    • Sacramento, CA 94290-0001

In California, you have the option to use a surety bond or cash deposit instead of insurance if the following requirements are met:
California Vehicle Code 16056

  • Cash deposit of at least $35,000 made with the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Liability bond for at least $35,000 made with an insurance or surety bond company licensed by the State of California

Required Proof of Insurance in California

  • Insurance Card provided by the insurance company including all of the following:
    • Name, address, and National Association of Insurance Commissioners number of Insurance Company
    • Certification and signature of the representative for the insurance company
    • Insurance Policy Number
    • Effective Date/Expiration Date of Policy
    • Accurate description of year, make/model, and vehicle identification number of registered vehicle
    • Name of Primary Insured Driver
  • Self-Insurance certificates are issued by the state and must include the following:
    • Certificate Number issued by Department of Motor Vehicles
    • Effective Date of Certificate
    • Accurate description of year, make/model, and vehicle identification number of registered vehicle
    • Name of primary driver covered by certificate
  • Certificate of Deposit
    • Certificate number issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles
    • Effective Date of Certificate
    • Accurate description of year, make/model, and vehicle identification number of registered vehicle
    • Name of primary driver covered by certificate of deposit
  • Surety Bond Certificate
    • Name, address, and National Association of Insurance Commissioners number of Insurance Company
    • Certification and signature of the representative for the insurance company
    • Bond Number
    • Effective Date/Expiration Date of Policy
    • Accurate description of year, make/model, and vehicle identification number of registered vehicle
    • Name of Primary Insured Driver

California Department of Motor Vehicles

Office of the Director – George Valverde
2415 1st Avenue Mail Station F101
Sacramento, CA 95818
1-800-777-0133

Obtaining a Driver’s License

Here are the requirements to obtain your provisional license for residents under the age of 18:

  • Be at least 15 ½ years old
  • Pass traffic laws and traffic signs exam
  • Pass vision test
  • Pay the application fee of $31 (subject to change)
  • Be enrolled in an integrated driver education program OR completion of driver education
    • If you are at least 17 ½ years old, you do not have to complete driver education to get your permit

Here are the requirements to obtain your license for residents under the age of 18:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Have your provisional license for at least 6 months
  • Complete driver education
  • Complete at least 6 hours of professional driver training
  • Have at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice (10 of those at night) with a licensed passenger of at least 25 years of age
  • Pass driving test
    • Have proof of insurance for the vehicle to be used for the driving test

Here are the requirements to obtain your first license for residents over the age of 18:

  • Pass written test
  • Pass vision test
  • Pass driving test

The following documents are required for application:

  • Proof of birth date and legal presence (acceptable forms)
  • Complete DL 44 form.
    • This form can only be obtained from a Department of Motor Vehicles office or through the mail. Contact the DMV at 1-800-777-0133 to request one
  • $31 license fee (Subject to change). Ask your local DMV office what forms of payment are accepted.
  • Certificate of Completion of Driver Education (not required for new drivers over 18 years old)
  • Social Security Number

Completing Driver Education

When a person reaches the age of 15 ½, they may enroll in Driver Education. To be eligible, a student must have the following:

  • If under the age of 18, must have parental consent

To complete a driver education program, a student must meet the following:

  • A total of 25 hours of classroom instruction with a max of 7 hours per day.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles provides the course content and requirements for a state-approved driver education program here.

Completing Driver Training

When a person reaches the age of 15 ½, they may enroll in Driver Training. To be eligible, a student must have the following:

  • Complete a driver education program
  • Provisional license
  • If under the age of 18, must have parental consent

To complete a driver training program, a student must meet the following:

  • A minimum of 6 hours of behind the wheel training with a max of 1 hour per day.
  • Behind the wheel practice of at least 50 hours, with 10 hours being at night, under the supervision of a parent or legal guardian.

It is recommended that you research any driver education and driver training program that you enroll in. You want to make sure they meet the following standards:

  • Instructors are licenses and have certificates from the State of California
  • They meet the state curriculum requirements
  • Check if they have received any disciplinary action for violations
  • Make sure there are enough instructors to meet student needs

You can also check if your student’s school offers any driver education and/or driver training programs. These programs meet the state requirements and have licensed instructors.

Knowing the Rules of the Road

California rules of the road can be found in Division 11 of the California Vehicle Code. In order to obtain the lowest possible car insurance rates, carefully obey these rules, including:

  • Driving obstructions — C.V.C. 21700
  • Following too closely — C.V.C 21703
  • Following emergency vehicles — C.V.C. 21706
  • Overtaking — C.V.C. 21750
  • Right-of-way — C.V.C. 21800-21809
  • Speed — C.V.C. 22348-22366
  • Reckless driving — C.V.C. 23103
  • Speed contests — C.V.C 23109
  • Carrying passengers in the back of a truck — C.V.C. 23116
  • Hand-held phones — C.V.C. 23123
  • Phone use prohibited for drivers under 18 years old — C.V.C. 23124
  • DUI — C.V.C. 23152
  • Drinking while driving — C.V.C. 23220
  • Storage of open alcoholic containers — C.V.C. 23225

Residents of California are generally divided into three insurance coverage markets: the preferred market, which offers the lowest premiums and is available for low-risk drivers with clean driving records; the standard market, which offers median premiums and is available to drivers with fair driving records; and the non-standard market, which offers the highest premiums and is available for less-experienced and/or high-risk drivers, including those with multiple traffic tickets or accidents, as well as those who have at least one drunk driving offense.

Know Your Rates

Auto insurance rates are adjusted according to all of the licensed drivers in the household, even if they are not related to you by blood, such as permanent roommates. The base rate that is used to evaluate all drivers is then adjusted, according to several factors, including:

  • Gender. According to statistical evidence, men younger than 25 are involved in more accidents than women younger than 25, so men are typically faced with higher insurance rates than women.
  • Age. Statistics indicate that drivers younger than 25 are involved in more accidents than any other age group. For this reason, drivers under 25 years old are considered a higher risk. Households with younger drivers are generally charged higher rates by insurance companies due to the increased risk.
  • Marital status. Statistics show that married couples tend to have far fewer accidents than drivers who are unmarried, so married couples may be offered lower insurance rates when shopping around.
  • Make, model, and year of the vehicle. The general rule is that the more high-performance and expensive the vehicle, the more the driver will have to pay to insure it due to the fact that these vehicles are more likely to be stolen due to the value or involved in an accident due to the performance.
  • Driving record and claims history. If you have had multiple accidents, tickets, and insurance claims, insurance companies consider you to be a risky driver to insure. For that reason, those with driving records full of offenses will see higher insurance rates. Also, the more driving experience you have, the better your chances are for lower insurance rates, as long as your record is clean.
  • Credit history. A good credit score helps to lessen your insurance rate. Insurance companies look at credit history to determine the likelihood that the driver will make the payments.
  • Geographical area. Areas with high crime rates often bring about high insurance rates. Therefore, those who live in a high-crime area will likely see higher insurance rates than those in areas where the crime rate is low. Likewise, those who live in an area exhibiting regular traffic collisions will experience higher insurance rates because they are more likely to damage their vehicles than those living in less accident-prone neighborhoods.

Picking an Insurance Agent/Broker

Insurance agents are employed by insurance companies and work to sell policies for commission. Insurance brokers, on the other hand, do not work for a specific insurance company. Instead, they work with individual clients, assessing the needs of each one and finding different insurance options, policies, companies to fit those needs. Brokers receive a commission for the sales they make from different insurance companies.

Whether you use an agent or broker, make sure that they are licensed with the Office of Insurance. You can search for the license status of your insurance agent by name or number with the Department of Insurance here. You can also request information about your agent or broker, such as the number of complaints that have been filed against him or her, from the Department by calling their consumer hotline at 1-800-927-HELP.

The California Department of Insurance provides consumers with an online brochure which answers many of the questions insurance shoppers have and offers advice on issues such as selecting an agent or broker.

If you have had issues with an insurance company or insurance agent/broker, including delay of settlement, problems with premiums and rates, and cancellation of a policy, you can file a complaint online with the Department of Insurance. You also have the option to fill out the printable form and mail it to the Department of Insurance Consumer Services Division. The address in printed on the top of the form. The Department will investigate the matter and get back to you if any formal disciplinary actions will take place.

Lower Your Rates

Speak with an insurance agent or broker about the price you are paying or can afford to pay and find out exactly what kind of insurance plan they can offer you. Shop around and talk to different companies and brokers to compare prices and policies to get the best value for the best price. Remember to make sure that the company is permitted to do business in California. If you are suspicious about the license status of any company, agent, or broker, verify their status online or call the Department of Insurance at 1-800-927-HELP. In addition, if an agent or company attempts to sell ERISA or union plans, contact the Department of Insurance to report the activity.

Insurance companies will often offer discounts. When speaking to an agent or broker, inquire about discounts that a company may offer but not advertise, such as multi-car discounts, anti-theft discounts, and senior citizen discounts.

In addition, pay close attention to your other insurance plans. Some plans, such as medical insurance, can overlap in coverage areas with your auto insurance plans.

After an Accident

If you are involved in a collision, you must exchange information, such as name, address, and vehicle information with the other driver(s) involved. Notify the California State Patrol, city police, or county sheriff. If you or someone else is injured, you must render aid if you are able, as well as contact paramedics. Depending on the situation, police may or may not decide to come to the scene of the accident. In the event that the police are coming to the scene, drivers should stay at the scene of the collision until released by a police officer. All information must be presented to the officer on the scene (California Vehicle Code 20003). To speed procedures along, be prepared to give a thorough account of the events leading up to the collision to responding officer Police reports vary between jurisdictions. In the event of a death, if no officer is at the scene, the accident must immediately be reported to the nearest California Highway Patrol office or police authority (California Vehicle Code 20004). If there is not a responding officer on the scene, the accident must be reported to the highway patrol or police department within 24 hours of the accident (California Vehicle Code 20008).

In the event that the accident resulted in property damage only, you must notify the owner of the property. Failure to do so can result in up to 6 months in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine (California Vehicle Code 20002). If the accident results in property or vehicle damage of more than $750, or if there is an injury or loss of life involved, a report must be filed with the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of the accident. A report can be filed by you or your insurance company, but failure to do so could lead to the suspension of your license (California Vehicle Code 16000).

In addition, you must also report the incident to your insurance company as soon as possible, closely following your particular company’s procedures for filing a claim. If your collision involved another driver, you must obtain their name, address, phone number, insurance information, driver’s license number, and the make, model, license plate number, and registration number of the car involved in the collision. You should also be prepared to report the extent of the damage to both cars, how the accident happened, what occurred during the accident, and the names and contact information of any witnesses at the scene because they may be contacted as part of the investigation. It is recommended that you take pictures of the vehicles and the scene of the accident if you are able. Any police report filed must also be copied and sent to your insurance company.

When all of your information has been received, your insurance company should contact you within 24-72 hours. Generally, your insurance company will investigate your claim within 15 days. Your claim will either be accepted or denied within 40 days of receiving proof of the claim. If your claim is delayed, the insurance company will notify you usually every 30 days until it is processed. In the event that your claim is denied, your insurance company will notify you in writing. If there seems to be an unreasonable delay without notification, contact the Department of Insurance at 1-800-927-HELP.

If the other party was at fault for the accident but you had to use your insurance to cover your expenses, your insurance company may also seek subrogation in order to recover the money. Your insurance will cover the costs of any medical or repair bills you had, but your insurance will then reach out to the at-fault driver’s insurance company for compensation. During this process, you should provide your insurance company with full cooperation to ensure that this process goes smoothly. If you intend to settle with the at-fault driver or their insurance company, be sure to notify your insurance company.

Insurance for High-Risk Drivers

If your driving record is bad enough, it may prevent you from receiving insurance coverage, especially if you have a history of accidents, tickets, or driving under the influence. However, the State of California makes it possible for every driver to find insurance opportunities by offering the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan. This plan specifically covers drivers in California who cannot find coverage due to their driving records.

You may also be asked to provide a SR 22 form from the Department of Motor Vehicles if you were caught driving without insurance, caught driving under the influence, cause an accident without insurance, have too many traffic violations and tickets within a short time span, or have had your license suspended or revoked. This form can help you reapply for a driver license by showing proof of financial responsibility. Your insurance company should do this for you, but not all companies provide this service. Therefore, be sure that you’re the insurance company you pick provides this for you if you are required to hold the SR 22 form.

Additional Help

The California Department of Insurance offers assistance to anyone shopping for insurance. They will answer inquiries related to insurance, look into complaints with specific agencies, agents, or brokers. They provide information online and over the phone that educates consumers on insurance law and procedures. They can also enforce insurance law on the consumer’s behalf if needed. You can contact them at 1-800-927-HELP.

Online resources include:

  • California Department of Insurance – File a Complaint
  • California Department of Insurance – Agent/Broker License Status Check
  • California Department of Insurance – Insurance Consumer Brochure