California Laws: High Fines for No Insurance

If you are caught with a DUI and no insurance, you need a California DUI Attorney.

Got Insurance? Now Prove It – Drivers Without Coverage Face Hefty Fines
By Arthur M. Louis, Chronicle Staff Writer

Although California law requires all motorists to insure their cars,
an estimated 5.5 million of the 21 million vehicles registered in the
state are uninsured.

But starting this year, the law got new teeth. The Legislature passed
a bill requiring motorists to produce proof of insurance before the
Department of Motor Vehicles will renew their registrations.

The new legislation also requires motorists to display proof of
insurance when they are stopped by police officers for traffic
violations. Drivers who can’t do so may have to pay fines ranging from
$1,350 to as high as $5,400 for repeat offenders.

The law — which expires at the end of 1999 unless renewed by the
Legislature — was spearheaded by former Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, a
Burlingame Democrat, whose husband was killed three years ago in a
collision with an uninsured driver.

As a result of the law, many previously uninsured motorists are
rushing to find insurance.

“We are being inundated with applications,” remarks Peter Gorman,
associate vice president of the Alliance of American Insurers, which
represents 300 property-and-casualty companies.

But many other motorists — a lot of them low-income people who claim
that the cost of insurance is too burdensome — continue to evade the
law.

Some are buying counterfeit insurance cards for around $50 apiece from
unscrupulous entrepreneurs, or are stealing registration stickers from
other cars so they won’t have to deal with the DMV.

Others get genuine insurance cards by paying the first month’s
premium, then cancel their policies, says Bill Sirola, a spokesman for
State Farm, California’s largest auto insurer.

Speier says the loophole described by Sirola crept into the law
because of heavy pressure from the insurance com- panies themselves.

Her bill originally required insurance companies to notify the DMV
electronically whenever an auto-insurance customer canceled coverage.

"But the insurance companies cried and complained about the
`extraordinary cost,’ so I took that out of the bill to keep it moving,”
Speier says.

Speier notes, however, that people who present false proof of
insurance are committing a misdemeanor, punishable by suspension of their
driver’s license for a year.

Even some judges and police officers are flouting the new
regulations.

Judges who consider the punishment too severe are letting violators
off the hook, or are imposing fines and penalties well below the $1,350
minimum. And various local police forces aren’t bothering to ask
motorists for proof of insurance — although the California Highway
Patrol is routinely making such requests.

The new law took a lot of people by surprise, and even those who want
to comply may not know how to go about it.

Here is how the law works.

When motorists renew their registration each year, they must send the
DMV a photocopy of the proof-of-insurance card provided by their insurer.
Or, they can display the card itself if they renew at a DMV office.

DMV spokesman Evan Nosoff said the agency prefers to have all renewals
handled by mail. It is a routine transaction, he notes, and the DMV
branches are crowded enough with other business.

Your insurance must meet certain legal minimums.

You must have per-accident coverage of at least $15,000 for injury to
one person, $30,000 for all injuries combined and $5,000 for property
damage.

As an alternative, you can demonstrate that you have enough financial
resources to self-insure. This requires bonded proof that you have set
aside $35,000 in cash to cover any liabilities.

Theft and collision insurance and comprehensive coverage are not
required.

If you are stopped by a police officer and asked for proof of
insurance, you will get a ticket if you can’t produce it at that
time.

However, you can have the ticket nullified by showing proof of
insurance in court. You still will be assessed a $10 fee for
paperwork.

Judges can impound the vehicles of frequent, flagrant violators. There
is no appeal from such a decision. The driver can never get the car back,
although the lender that financed the car can.

If you provide false evidence of insurance coverage and your driver’s
license is suspended, the suspension won’t be lifted until you
demonstrate genuine proof of insurance.

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