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Nearly 17% of California Drivers Are Uninsured

California is a state practically made for cruising with the top down, enjoying the feel of the wind in your hair and the radiant glow of the sun on the water. But if some misfortune should occur while you’re behind the wheel, are you really fully protected against it? You might be — but the other person might not, because according to the latest data from the Insurance Information Institute (III), 16.6% of California motorists are uninsured — four percent higher than the national average of 12.6%.

In fact, California ranks 10th on the list of states with the highest number of uninsured drivers (the #1 spot belonging to Florida). And the rate is going up — the number of uninsured drivers in California increased by 1.4% from 2015 to 2019.

Car Insurance in California

As with almost everywhere in the nation, car insurance is legally mandatory in California. Also, like most everywhere else, California law requires a minimum level of coverage to ensure financial responsibility in case of an accident. Auto insurance isn’t just there to protect you — it’s also to protect the other parties in the accident, and to avoid massive lawsuits and medical bills from potentially bankrupting motorists for life.

Specifically, the state minimums for insurance in California are $15,000 liability coverage for the injury or death of another person, or at least $30,000 for the injury or death of two people. Their insurance must also cover at least $5,000 worth of property damage.

Penalties for Driving While Uninsured in California

So what happens if you get caught driving without insurance in California? While not as strict as other states, the Golden State still levies stiff penalties for uninsured drivers: a fine between $100-200 for first time offenders, plus state assessments and fees. That increases to $200-500 for a subsequent infraction and can lead to the driver’s vehicle being impounded (at the expense of the owner). This can easily add up to thousands of dollars.

If you happen to get in an accident while uninsured — particularly if you’re the one at fault — the penalties get much harsher. The financial penalties will be more severe, and you’re also likely to have your license suspended, leaving you unable to legally drive at all. You’ll also be open to civil litigation for medical bills and damages from the other party in the accident, which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You can also say goodbye to cheap California car insurance. Per numbers from The Zebra’s Ross Martin, the average yearly auto insurance premium is $1,810 in the state of California. Get caught driving without insurance, and that will go up to $2,540. Get caught driving with a suspended license and it skyrockets to $4,107. You could easily find it too expensive to drive in California at all (which could make things very challenging).

One of the reasons California’s rate of uninsured drivers is so high may be that the average premium is quite a bit higher than the national average to begin with, making it more difficult for California drivers to afford it. But the penalties for getting caught without insurance go beyond lawsuits and stiff fines: California has what’s called a “no pay, no play” law, which limits the ability of uninsured drivers to collect on damages such as pain and suffering should they be in an accident. The aim of this law is to discourage uninsured drivers from landing big settlements without having fulfilled their financial responsibility.

Finding Cheap Car Insurance

Uninsured drivers are bad for everyone. It’s estimated that insured drivers paid over $13 billion per year for costs related to uninsured motorists. Not only is it a potential catastrophe for the uninsured driver, it also means the other motorist’s insurance will have to foot the bill for both sides — which could eventually lead to higher premiums for pretty much everyone. (The epidemic of uninsured drivers in Florida, plus massive amounts of fraudulent claims, is leading to a genuine crisis in the state.)

So what can you do if you’re struggling to make ends meet and are considering going without auto insurance? For obvious reasons, it’s best if you can avoid going without if at all possible. Some steps you can take include:

  • Comparison shopping to find the best cheap car insurance in California. There are plenty of free online tools to help you compare quotes.
  • Ask your existing insurer about discounts — most insurers have plenty to offer. You could get a discount for bundling your insurance, taking a defensive driving course, working in certain professions, agreeing to have a telematics device installed on your vehicle, and much more.

Driving without insurance is a huge gamble, not worth the potential financial chaos. Talk to your insurer and see what they can do for you — or start looking for a better deal elsewhere.

  • […] Additionally, around 17% of drivers in California are on the road without insurance. […]