California Car Registration and Licensing Guide

June 11, 2014

How to Get a California License

To obtain a California driver’s license, applicants must present identification and proof-of-residence, take a driving test, and pay a fee.

California residents who are under 17 and a half must show that they’ve completed a driver education course, pass a traffic laws and signs test, pay an application fee, and get a parental signature.  Once they’ve held the resulting provisional license for at least six months, the applicant can take the driving test and get a full license.

Beyond the standard driver’s license, California also offers commercial, hazardous materials, and motorcycle licenses.  You can also obtain a Restricted Local License, which limits drivers to a small geographic area – such as the grocery store, bank, and post office only.  Learn more about California driver’s licenses at California Department of Motor Vehicles website.

Keeping Your license

California laws are unique to that state; every state legislature sets its own rules regarding traffic safety.  Below are some relevant California laws; be sure to check the local statutes if you plan to be driving in California.

California Seat Belt Laws

California imposes primary liability for not wearing a seatbelt, so an officer can stop you for that reason alone.  All passengers over 16 are required to wear a belt, and the driver is responsible for ensuring that passengers are buckled up.  If you’re a driver in California and your thirty year old buddy isn’t wearing his seat belt, you can get a ticket for that.  First offense will cost you upwards of $80 because of the way California structures its traffic ticket fees; second and subsequent offense can run nearly $200.

California Distracted Driving Laws

California legislators have taken a hard stance against distracted driving.  All hand-held use and texting use is banned on California roadways. This is a primary liability offense for everyone, and carries a fine of $159 for a first offense and up to $279 for every subsequent offense.

California Negligence Standards

California uses a pure comparative negligence standard to determine how much a plaintiff is entitled to recover in a lawsuit.  In this type of jurisdiction, as long as the court finds that the defendant is even a little bit responsible for the accident, the plaintiff can recover in proportion to the amount of fault.  Unlike in some other jurisdiction, there is no bar to recovery as long as there was some fault on the defendant’s part.

California Driver Safety Facts

The California Office of Traffic Safety releases a yearly Traffic Safety Score Card which summarizes the state’s rate of highway accidents, citations, and fatalities.  The 2012 report offers some interesting and potentially useful information, and highlights the importance of having up-to-date and comprehensive car insurance. Some interesting facts included in this data:

  • A 2012 survey showed that 10.8 percent of California drivers were using cell phones at any given daylight time.  This was a rise from 7.3 percent in 2011.
  • Hand-held cell phone convictions increased 22 percent from 361,320 in 2010 to 460,487 in 2011.
  • Texting convictions went from 7,924 in 2012 to 14,886 in 2011; a gain of 47 percent.
  • Southern Californians text more often (19.3 percent “regularly” or “sometimes”) than Central (12.2 percent) or Northern (14.6 percent) California drivers.
  • In 2012, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities (fatalities in crashes involving a driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater) matched California’s historic low of 774 in 2010 and 2011 — the lowest DUI death total ever.

California Auto Insurance Guide

Navigating the waters of car insurance in California can be tricky.  To help you on your way, we’ve assembled some basic information about driving in California.  Below you’ll find resources on car insurance, licensure information, and fun facts about the state.

Just looking to get an auto insurance quote? Head over this way.

California Auto Insurance Requirements

Drivers in California must show financial responsibility – usually, this means drivers must carry proof of car insurance.  In California, this proof can also take the form of a $35,000 deposit with the DMV, a $35,000 surety bond, or a DMV-issued self-insurance certificate.  You must carry this proof with you at all times, in case you are in an accident or stopped by the police.

California also requires insurance companies to electronically report insurance information for private-use vehicles, so that the DMV can determine whether or not you meet the coverage requirements.  California’s minimum insurance coverage levels are:

  • Body Injury Liability: $15,000 for injury/death to one person; $50,000 for more than one person.
  • Property Damage Liability: $5,000

Don’t know what those numbers mean? Check out our liability coverage page.

Medical payments, collision insurance, and comprehensive coverage are not required in California.  However, between medical bills, body damage, and possible lawsuits may cost you far more than the minimum instance coverage is able to cover.  Keep this in mind when you’re shopping, and be sure to get the most appropriate coverage for you.  See our resources page for more details on your options.

California Auto Insurance Discounts

Looking for a discount on your car insurance? Many companies and institutions in California offer affinity group discounts to their employees and members. If you’re associated with one of these, you may qualify for an affinity group discount with one or more major insurance companies. Make sure you don’t miss out: Ask your employer if the company has a business relationship with any insurance companies.

California Auto Insurance Penalties

Failure to meet California’s minimum requirements may result in an any number of penalties.  These include:

  • Suspension of your driver’s license plus a fee and the costs associated with a license and registration reinstatement.
  • Impoundment of your vehicle.
  • Being required to file an SR-22 annual for three years after reinstatement.

To learn more about the requirements and penalties, visit the California Department of Insurance.

California Driver Resources

Still confused about the California mandatory insurance requirements?  Check out California Auto Insurance 101, provided by the state’s Department of Insurance.

If you’re looking for information on California’s Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program, look no further.

Better Business Bureau websites for Los Angeles, Bay Area, and Central California allow consumers to file a report if they’re having trouble with their insurance company.

California Tourism Facts

From racing to hot-rodding and more, California is a great place for car lovers.  Did you know:

  • The California Auto Museum in Sacramento is home to more than 160 classic and race cars.
  • The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas is famous for its challenging “Corkscrew” turn.
  • The state legislature recently introduced the Legacy License Plate Program, which allows California drivers to buy vintage-looking license plates.

Other California Driver Resources

Still confused about the California mandatory insurance requirements?  Check out California Auto Insurance 101, provided by the state’s Department of Insurance.

If you’re looking for information on California’s Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program, look no further.

Better Business Bureau websites for Los Angeles, Bay Area, and Central California allow consumers to file a report if they’re having trouble with their insurance company.

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