What Punishment Do I Face for Driving without Insurance?

If one drives without proof of insurance, a violation of Vehicle Code § 16028, the punishment is rather straight forward.  This is an infraction, not a misdemeanor or felony.  Consequently, the punishment is usually just a fine.  There is no probation, even informal or summary probation, associated with an infraction, so an employer is usually not worried about such a conviction.
In a Nutshell:  Driving without insurance is more of a regulatory violation than a crime and as such, is an infraction, not a misdemeanor.  To have a chance of having this charge dismissed, show up to court with proof of insurance.
On a first offense, the judge will order that the client pay a fine.  The minimum fine is $100.  The maximum fine is $200.  Penalties and assessments are added to the fine.  On a $100 fine, the total payment will be roughly $550.  On a $200 fine, the total payment will be approximately $1,100.

On a second conviction occurring within three years of the first conviction, the fines are higher.  The minimum fine that a judge can order is $200, plus penalties and assessments.  The maximum fine that the judge can order is $500, which we have never seen imposed.  If it is imposed, however, the penalties and assessments will make the total fine approximately $2,750.

There are other consequences if the case involves a car accident.  When this happens, the client faces personal liability (because there is no insurance) in a civil case if found at fault, for the injuries and property damage to the other party or parties.  Personal liability can mean that there will be a judgment against the client, which can affect the client’s credit and thus, his or her ability to rent housing or buy a car in the future.
 
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More importantly perhaps, the DMV will suspend the client’s driver’s license for four years.  After one year, the client can request the license back in a restricted status if he or she shows proof of insurance to the DMV and pays a $125 license reissuance fee.  This obviously can have significant ramifications on one’s employment.

A further consequence with the DMV, even if one is not involved in a car accident, is that if one does not have automobile insurance, the DMV will suspend the vehicle registration.  The DMV is also within its power to do this (suspend the registration)and if you cancel your auto insurance and do not obtain a new policy within 45 days or one buys a new car and insurance is not obtained within thirty days.  The DMV can also suspend the vehicle registration if one provides false proof of insurance.

The most immediate and practical problem with driving without proof of insurance is that the police can order the car impounded.  This is not done in every case, but it can be quite expensive with not only towing fees, but the daily fees that accrue with a vehicle simply being stored at the tow yard.  In our experience, we have seen many clients simply abandon the car because the fees associated with having the car released exceed the value of the car.

As one may suspect, the best thing for a client to do in response to such a charge is obtain insurance, bring proof of it to court and present this to the judge and/or prosecutor.  When this happens, the case is often dismissed, sometimes only after the client pays minimal court fees.

In handling such cases on behalf of those who are not U.S. citizens, this charge often is charged with a failure to drive with a valid driver’s license.  The two charges went together, it seemed.  However, now with the passage of AB 60, which became effective January 1, 2015, someone who is not a U.S. citizen can obtain a California driver’s license, and presumably, also insurance.  To obtain such a license, one must show proof of identity as well as proof of residency in California.  No social security number is required to obtain a license under the new law.

We mention this new law in the context of driving without insurance because one who is seeking insurance is often asked, by the insurance company or insurance broker, for his or her driver’s license number. It is consequently smart to obtain such a license.

For more information about traffic offenses, click on the following articles:
  1. What Punishment Do I Face for Driving without a Valid License?
  2. What Is a Critical Needs Restricted License?
  3. Court Rules That Driving Includes Being Stopped at Red Light While Using Cell Phone
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