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California law requires that all drivers and owners of motor vehicles carry car insurance—or, in the language of the law, “evidence of financial responsibility.” All the drivers on the road should be capable of covering the financial costs of any damage that could arise out of driving the car. Insurance can be very expensive and for some people difficult to get. So, what exactly happens if you drive without being insured?

The California vehicle code says that “every person who drives a motor vehicle” should be able to provide evidence of financial responsibility—your proof of insurance—when a police officer requests it. You will be requested to provide proof of insurance when you register your vehicle, as the result of a routine traffic stop or following a collision when the officer responds to the scene of the accident.

There are serious potential penalties for failure to carry insurance and to be able to demonstrate proof of your insurance. A first offense will land you with a fine between $100 and $200. A second offense within three years carries a fine of $200 to $500. But fines might be the least of your troubles if you are caught driving without insurance. The court might also order that your vehicle be impounded, for which you might have to pay the costs.

Those are the penalties if you are simply driving without proof of insurance. If you don’t have insurance and you are involved in an accident, the consequences are even more severe. In this case, the department of motor vehicles, upon receiving the accident report showing you have no insurance, will suspend your driving privileges, even if you are not a resident of California. The DMV will mail a notice of intent to suspend your driving privileges, which then occurs 30 days later.

Driving without insurance—or without enough insurance—is a serious offense in California. Before you get behind the wheel of a car, make sure that you are in compliance with the state’s insurance requirements.

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