Minimum liability insurance California: What to know

In California, everyone who drives a car must have minimum liability insurance coverage or some way to show they can cover the costs if there’s an accident. The least amount of car insurance you need in the state is $15,000 for one person’s injuries, $30,000 for all injuries in one accident, and $5,000 for property damage.

While car insurance is the simplest way to meet this requirement, you can choose another way to prove you can pay if there’s a crash. But if you get caught driving without insurance in California, you’ll probably have to pay fines and give up your driver’s license.

Key Takeaways

  • Insurance Requirement: California drivers need at least $15,000 for injuries, $30,000 for multiple injuries, and $5,000 for property damage.
  • Optional Coverages: Drivers can opt for additional coverages like collision insurance or protection against uninsured motorists.
  • Low-Cost Insurance: The state offers a low-cost insurance program for qualifying low-income individuals.
  • No “No-Fault” Rule: California operates on an at-fault system for accidents.
  • Consequences: Fines and potential license suspension await those driving without insurance.
  • Alternative Proofs: Other than insurance, drivers can use a cash deposit, DMV self-insurance certificate, or a surety bond to show financial responsibility.

Minimum liability insurance requirement in California

California drivers need to have at least the following amount of coverage in their car insurance:

Minimum liability insurance requirement in California
California required car insurance coverageCalifornia required minimum limits
Bodily injury (BI) liability insurance$15,000 per person/$30,000 per accident
Property damage (PD) liability insurance$5,000 per accident

While you have the coverages we mentioned earlier, there are some other optional types of car insurance that can come in handy:

  • Comprehensive and collision coverage: Collision coverage helps pay for fixing your own car if it’s damaged in an accident, while comprehensive covers other incidents like vandalism, theft, or damage from natural disasters.
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: This helps cover your medical bills and car repair costs if you’re in an accident with a driver who either doesn’t have enough insurance or has none at all. You can choose between uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury and uninsured/underinsured motorist property damage.
  • Medical payments (MedPay): If you or your passengers get hurt in an accident, your auto insurance company can step in to pay for necessary medical bills, no matter who’s at fault. This coverage often starts at $1,000 per person and can be increased in $1,000 increments.

California liability insurance

All drivers in California must have liability coverage. This insurance pays for injuries or damage you cause if you’re in an accident where you’re at fault.

  • Bodily injury liability insurance: This type of coverage takes care of the medical expenses of the other party if the accident is your fault. In California the minimum liability insurance for this is $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident.
  • Property damage liability insurance: This coverage helps fix the other party’s vehicle, up to $5,000 per accident, if you’re the one responsible.

However, these minimum limits may not cover the full medical expenses or damage to the other vehicle. You might have to pay the rest, so it’s a smart move to consider higher limits to protect your assets.

California’s Low-Cost Auto Insurance Program

California offers an alternative to the standard minimum liability insurance requirements. If you qualify for California’s Low Cost Auto Insurance Program (CLCA), you can meet state auto insurance rules with lower coverage limits. CLCA aims to provide affordable car insurance to safe drivers with income within federal poverty guidelines.

Here are the minimum coverage limits for a CLCA policy:

  • Bodily injury liability insurance: $10,000 per person and $20,000 per accident.
  • Property damage liability insurance: Up to $3,000 per accident.
  • Uninsured motorist bodily injury: Up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per accident (optional coverage).
  • Medical payments: Up to $1,000 per person (also optional).

Does California Follow a No-Fault Insurance System?

Does California Follow a No-Fault Insurance System?

California uses a fault-based car insurance system, unlike some states that use a no-fault system. This means that the driver who causes an accident is responsible for any damages or injuries. In California, drivers don’t require to have personal injury protection (PIP) coverage in their insurance. PIP covers medical costs for drivers and passengers after an accident, regardless of who’s at fault.

In no-fault states, drivers claim from their own insurance for injuries and can’t easily sue other drivers for damages. However, in California, if you’re hurt in an accident, you can claim against the responsible driver’s insurance or even sue them for damages.

What Happens if You Drive Without Insurance in California?

If you’re caught driving without minimum liability insurance, there are consequences, especially if it’s not your first time:

  • First offense: You’ll face a fine ranging from $100 to $200, plus additional penalty assessment fees at a rate of $26 for every $10 of the base fine.
  • Second offense and any subsequent offenses: The fine goes up, ranging from $200 to $500, along with those penalty assessment fees.

There are other possible penalties too. You will file an SR-22 certificate, and your license and registration could be suspended. If that happens, you’ll also need to pay fees to reinstate them.

Alternative Financial Responsibility Options in California

In the realm of minimum liability insurance California, besides having auto insurance, there are three other ways to prove you can take financial responsibility for accidents, but not all options are available to everyone:

Alternative Financial Responsibility Options in California
  1. Cash Deposit: You can put $35,000 into a savings account with any bank. Then, contact the DMV Financial Responsibility Unit to submit an application. Make sure to maintain a balance of $35,000 in that account. If you’re at fault in an accident, the DMV can use these funds to cover liability costs.
  2. Certificate of Self-Insurance from the DMV: If you own more than 25 vehicles in your name, you can request a self-insurance certificate. This certificate affirms your ability to cover medical bills, car repairs, and property damage expenses similar to a regular liability policy. The DMV may require proof that you can meet these financial responsibilities before issuing the certificate.
  3. Surety Bond: You can buy a $35,000 surety bond, which serves as a guarantee that you’ll cover medical bills, car repairs, and property damage if you’re at fault in an accident. If you can’t cover these expenses, a surety company will step in but will seek repayment from you later. Contact the California Department of Insurance for a list of licensed surety companies offering this type of bond in California.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the minimum insurance requirement in California?

For minimum liability insurance California, drivers must have a bodily injury liability coverage of $15,000 per individual, $30,000 per incident, along with a property damage coverage of $5,000.

Is car insurance required in California?

Car insurance is not mandatory in California, but it’s the most common and straightforward way to meet the legal financial responsibility requirement for driving. If you opt not to get insurance, you have other choices such as a surety bond, a certificate of self-insurance from the DMV, or a cash deposit.

What type of insurance is required in California?

In California, the only type of insurance required for drivers is liability insurance, which includes both bodily injury and property damage liability coverage.

Is PIP Coverage Mandatory in California?

No, you don’t have to have personal injury protection (PIP) as part of your basic car insurance in California. PIP, also known as MedPay in California, is an extra option you can add to your policy. It helps pay for medical expenses if you or your passengers are hurt, regardless of who caused the accident.

Is Car Insurance Required for California Car Registration?

You can register your car in California without insurance, but you’ll need to provide a few documents to the DMV:

  • Title and registration application form
  • Verification of vehicle form
  • Emission test results
  • Proof of inspection If your car resigned in another state, you’ll need to show its out-of-state title and registration.

Does California Follow No-Fault Insurance Rules, and What Does It Signify?

California operates as an at-fault state. In simple terms, this means that if you’re responsible for an accident, you’re responsible for covering the other party’s costs for injuries and property damage.

Conclusion


In California, it’s a legal requirement to have financial protection when you’re driving. The simplest way to meet this requirement is by having liability insurance. This comes with minimums of $15,000 for one person’s injury, $30,000 for all injuries in one accident, and $5,000 for property damage.

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