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California Car Insurance

Car insurance is a little different in California. Companies are required to focus more on who you are than where you live. And, the use of credit is not permitted, as it is in most other states. Your auto insurance rate will be based on the personal information you provide - and your insurance company will verify that information using your MVR and claim history.

Your driving record, annual mileage and the number of years licensed are the three most important factors for California insurance rates. Your home address is also important, but Proposition 103 keeps rates relatively lower in urban areas. Some insurance companies ask about your education, occupation, or grades in college. And, the coverage, deductibles, and safety features of the cars you drive will determine your final rate.

Minimum requirements for California car insurance

It's illegal to drive in California if you do not have an auto insurance policy with coverage that meets minimum levels set by state law. The California Department of Insurance website lists the following minimums: 

  • Bodily injury liability: $15,000 for death or injury of any one person, any one accident; $30,000 for all persons in any one accident.
  • Property damage liability: $5,000 for any one accident.

Drivers who do not purchase automobile insurance coverage can still satisfy state requirements by leaving a cash deposit of $35,000 with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or obtaining a surety bond for $35,000 from an insurance company licensed to do business in the state. Owners of fleets of 25 or more vehicles can also obtain a certificate of self-insurance from the DMV.

California graduated driver's license program

Under California's graduated driver license law, teens who wish to drive must go through a two-step process starting no earlier than age 15 ½.

First, they must apply for an instructional permit, which allows them to operate a vehicle other than a motorcycle or moped when accompanied by a licensed parent or guardian, or a licensed California driver over the age of 25.

Second, they can apply for a provisional license six months after getting an instructional permit and meeting other requirements. When a provisional license is granted, drivers under age 18 still face some restrictions during their first year behind the wheel. For example, they must be accompanied by a parent/guardian or other person designated by law when they transport passengers of any age. In addition, they cannot drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. for the first 12 months.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles website has more information about requirements for both the instructional permit and the provisional license.

Car insurance costs can be much higher for teen drivers than for drivers in other age groups. A car insurance comparison will show that some car insurance companies charge less to cover teens than others insurers. For that reason, running several auto insurance quotes can help younger drivers find an insurer with the lowest rates.

California car seat law

In California, all children under the age of 8 must be secured in a car seat or a booster seat in the vehicle's back seat. However, parents may secure children under the age of 8 with seat belts as long as the child is at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall. These children must continue to ride in the back seat.

The California Highway Patrol offers instruction in securing a child properly. Parents can find the closest office to their home by visiting the California Highway Patrol website.

California motorcycle helmet law

All motorcycle drivers and passengers must wear helmets in California. The helmet must:

  • Comply with Department of Transportation safety requirements.
  • Remain fastened with helmet straps.
  • Fit securely without excessive lateral or vertical movement.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles offers more information at its website.

California DUI penalties

The legal blood alcohol content level for California adults of drinking age is 0.08 percent. Drivers under age 21 must not exceed a blood alcohol content level of 0.01 percent. There is a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under age 18.

Potential penalties associated with a DUI in California include:

  • Jail time of 96 hours to six months.
  • A fine of between $1,000 and $1,600.
  • License suspension for six months.
  • Requirement to complete a DUI program.
  • An order to install ignition interlock device.
  • California SR-22 car insurance requirement.

Drivers who refuse a Breathalyzer test will have their license suspended for one year. A second offense within 10 years triggers a two-year revocation, and a third offense within 10 years results in to a three-year revocation.

Visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles website for more information.

California SR-22 rules

There are several situations where drivers may need to file an SR-22 insurance form. This is a form filed by a driver's car insurance company that proves the driver is carrying auto insurance up to an amount required by the state.

Drivers convicted of a DUI will need to file an SR-22 car insurance form. Drivers also may need to file if they've had an "admin per se" suspension, if they get into an accident when they are not carrying automobile insurance coverage, or if they are reinstating a driver's license after a suspension or revocation. 

Typically, drivers are required to maintain an SR-22 car insurance form for three years.

California insurance companies: The top 10

The California Department of Insurance lists the top 10 property and casualty insurance companies in California by market share as follows:

  1. Zurich
  2. State Farm
  3. Liberty Mutual
  4. Allstate
  5. Travelers
  6. Auto Club Enterprises
  7. California State Auto
  8. Mercury Insurance
  9. AIG
  10. Nationwide