California Car Insurance Driver’s Guide [Coverages + Advice]
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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021
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|California Statistics Summary||Stats|
|Most Popular Vehicle||Honda Civic|
|Percentage of Uninsured Motorists||15.2%|
|Driving Deaths||Speeding – 1,070
Drunk Driving – 1,120
|Average Premiums Annually||Liability – $462.95
Collision – $364.56
|Cheapest Providers||USAA CIC and United Financial Casualty|
Driving in California can be difficult enough without worrying about your auto insurance rates. Many of the highways seem always to be gridlocked, cars are more expensive due to the emissions standards and the gas prices are the highest in the continental United States. On top of that, the state requires you to find insurance.
And it’s not like the insurance companies make it easy to comparison shop. Most companies will only give you a quote after you’ve fed them all of your personal information. The idea is that you’ll have invested so much time in getting a single quote that you won’t have the energy to shop around.
We have taken the time and hassle out of comparison shopping for California auto insurance by including all of the information you need here. In addition to rate information, we have broken down California’s driving and insurance laws, plus much more! Our goal is to be your one-stop-shop for all auto-related information in California.
You can start by comparing rates charged by California’s insurance providers with our free online tool by entering your ZIP code here, or you can keep reading to learn more about California’s rules of the road.
California Car Insurance Coverage and Rates
Before we discuss the auto insurers operating in California and the factors they can and cannot consider when setting your rates, let’s take a look at some of the basics about driving in the state.
What is California’s car culture?
For better or worse, cars are more a part of Californians’ identities than any state outside of Michigan. The good is that you can cruise some of the country’s most beautiful stretches of highway in the country along the Pacific Coast. However, to enjoy those drives, you’ll first need to get outside some of the worst cities in the country for traffic congestion.
California celebrates its car culture with more than a dozen museums dedicated to the automotive and trucking industry. Some of the most popular are the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento, and the San Diego Automotive Museum.
In the early part of the 20th Century, Southern California was the nation’s hotbed for auto racing. While other sports have passed motorsports in terms of popularity in the state, there is still a sizeable contingent of auto racing fans living there. California still hosts several major NASCAR, Formula 1, and Indycar races each year.
How much coverage is required for California’s minimum coverage?
California drivers are required by state law to carry at least these minimum levels of auto insurance:
- Bodily injury liability coverage of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident
- Property damage liability coverage of $5,000
- Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident
- Uninsured Motorist property damage coverage of at least $3,500
When you are buying insurance, please remember that these are the state-mandated minimum levels of coverage and will not cover injuries sustained by you or your passengers in an accident unless that accident was caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. It will also not cover damage to your vehicle in most situations.
What are forms of financial responsibility in California?
California state law stipulates that drivers must show financial responsibility for any vehicles they own in case they cause injury to others or property damage. While the intent of the law is to force all drivers to carry insurance on their vehicles, some drivers have found loopholes in the law. However, they are usually more expensive than just purchasing insurance.
The first non-insurance option is a cash deposit. California drivers are allowed to make a cash deposit to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that will be set aside in case of an accident. Those funds will be used to pay for any injuries or property damage caused by the driver. The unused deposit amount will be refunded when the driver either buys insurance or surrenders their license.
The second option is to purchase a $35,000 surety bond from an insurance company.
How much percentage of income are premiums in California?
Let’s face it, California can be one of the most expensive places to live in the country. However, you will be glad to know that, as a percentage of income, California’s insurance rates are slightly below average. Essentially, that means California residents pay less of their after-tax income to auto insurance than the national average.
The average percentage of income used for insurance premiums is the percentage of disposable personal income (known as DPI) the average resident spends on auto insurance each year. Your DPI is the amount you take home after you have paid your taxes, so it is the money that you actually have to spend (or save).
On average, in 2014 Californians paid 2.19 percent of their DPI for auto insurance meeting the state minimum requirements. Nationally, the average percentage of income spent on auto insurance was 2.29 percent for that year.
We should probably note here that one of the reasons for that good number is that the DPI of the average Californian is just shy of $44,000, which is roughly $3,000 a year higher than the national average. Those high incomes help counteract the fact the average Californian pays $952 annually for auto insurance at the state-minimum level, which is slightly more than the national average of $944 annually.
You can see from the chart below that the average DPI has generally kept pace with insurance rate increases, which has resulted in Californians paying between 2.1 percent and 2.2 percent of their DPI for auto insurance from 2012 to 2014.
|Year||Annual Cost of State-Minimum Coverage||Annual DPI||Percentage of Income Paid to Car Insurance|
Because our data is based on average incomes and rates for state-minimum coverage and your coverage level and income are probably not the same as the state average, it may not reflect the amount of your income currently going to car insurance. Use the calculator below to determine what percentage of your income you actually spend on insurance.
What are the core coverages in California?
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) tracks the average rates for each type of auto insurance coverage and breaks down that information by state. According to the NAIC’s data for 2015, California drivers pay an average of $987 combined for liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage. That’s actually $22 a year less than the national average of $1009.
You can see a breakdown of how much the average Californian was paying for each type of coverage for 2015 below.
|Coverage Type||Annual Cost in 2015|
We’ve included comprehensive coverage in the table because most drivers finance or lease their vehicles and are required to carry comprehensive coverage under those agreements (that’s 85 percent of drivers, according to a recent Experian study). However, it is not required under California law.
What additional liability is available in California?
If you drive in California and have only the state-minimum levels of insurance, it is unlikely that your insurance will cover the costs of medical care or property damage if you are found at-fault in a major accident. That’s why nearly all experts recommend that drivers get more than minimum coverage.
But how do you know that your insurer will still be around to cover your expenses after you have paid your premiums? Insurance companies, like any other business, will sometimes go bankrupt. Luckily, we can help give you an idea of whether your insurer is likely to stick around.
The NAIC provides a detailed annual breakdown of the loss ratios for California insurers. The loss ratio shows how much an insurer is spending on certain types of claims relative to the premiums they are collecting. So a loss ratio of 60 percent shows that a company is spending $60 on claims for every $100 it collects.
When company loss ratios top 100 percent for California, that means they are losing money on their policies in that state. Lose enough money and your business goes bankrupt. As a general rule, companies with loss ratios of between 60 to 70 percent are considered safe.
You can see the NAIC loss ratios for California insurers broken down by coverage area below.
|Coverage Type||2015 Loss Ratio||2014 Loss Ratio||2013 Loss Ratio|
|Bodily Injury Liability||66||62||56|
|Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage||69||58||59|
|Property Damage Liability||79||74||76|
According to the NAIC numbers, California auto insurers providing coverage for personal injury liability, property damage liability, and uninsured/underinsured motorists are looking pretty healthy financially. That’s good news if you are planning to buy auto insurance there.
What add-ons, endorsements, and riders are available in California?
Nearly all California auto insurance companies offer policies that provide far more than the state’s minimum required protection. In addition to offering higher levels of liability coverage, many insurers will offer the following policy options to California drivers:
- Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP)
- Personal Umbrella Policy (PUP)
- Rental Reimbursement
- Emergency Roadside Assistance
- Mechanical Breakdown Insurance
- Non-Owner Car Insurance
- Modified Car Insurance Coverage
- Classic Car Insurance
- Pay-as-You-Drive or Usage-Based Insurance
Does gender and age affect my car insurance in California?
In early 2019 California became one of the small number of states to bar insurers from taking gender into consideration when calculating insurance rates. However, insurers are still free to use your age and marital status when setting rates.
While these numbers were collected before California banned gender-based insurance rates, the data below will still show how your age and marital status can impact your annual auto insurance rates.
|Company||Single 17-Year-Old Female||Single 17-Year-Old Male||Single 25-Year-Old Female||Single 25-Year-Old Male||Married 35-Year-Old Female||Married 35-Year-Old Male||Married 60-Year-Old Female||Married 60-Year-Old Male|
|Allstate Northbrook Indemnity||$8,098.88||$10,188.73||$3,742.44||$4,115.50||$2,921.24||$2,923.87||$2,126.03||$2,148.03|
|Farmers Ins Exchange||$8,667.08||$14,189.14||$3,218.46||$3,585.17||$2,715.31||$2,715.31||$2,451.83||$2,451.83|
|SAFECO Ins Co of America||$5,014.43||$5,348.46||$2,593.72||$2,620.60||$2,303.99||$2,177.93||$2,145.20||$2,077.01|
|State Farm Mutual Auto||$6,089.50||$7,555.39||$3,663.92||$3,777.69||$3,310.18||$3,310.18||$2,957.44||$2,957.44|
|Travelers Commercial Ins Co.||$5,165.60||$5,906.73||$3,249.64||$3,179.78||$2,497.45||$2,417.86||$2,206.26||$2,182.92|
|United Financial Casualty||$4,767.78||$5,748.65||$2,576.92||$2,771.33||$1,785.37||$1,837.82||$1,518.62||$1,802.64|
As you can see, even before California banned gender-based insurance rates, gender usually did not have as large an impact on rates as age did. However, the difference was stark when you look at Farmers Insurance Exchange, where the difference in rates between 17-year-old boys and girls averaged more than $5,500 annually.
One thing shown in the chart that still holds true in California is that 17-year-old drivers can expect to pay much higher premiums than older drivers. Often the difference between 17-year-old single drivers and 25-year-old single drivers is more than $2,000 annually.
In the case of Farmers Insurance Exchange, the difference in rates between 17-year-old and 25-year-old male unmarried drivers topped $10,000.
What are the cheapest rates by ZIP code in California?
According to the U.S. Postal Service, there are 2,597 California ZIP codes, and your insurance rates can vary dramatically from the state average of $3,690 depending on which ZIP code you call home. Below you will find the 25 ZIP codes where Californians pay the lowest average auto insurance rates, broken down by company.
|ZIP Code||City||Average||Allstate Northbrook Indemnity||Farmers Ins Exchange||Geico General||SAFECO Ins Co of America||AMCO Insurance||United Financial Casualty||State Farm Mutual Auto||Travelers Commercial Ins Co.||USAA CIC|
|93401||San Luis Obispo||$2,731.32||$3,488.65||$2,992.54||$2,403.77||$2,285.77||$3,336.13||$2,177.96||$2,991.49||$2,554.99||$2,350.57|
You may have noticed that the rates for the least expensive ZIP code in California are substantially higher than the average combined rates we listed earlier for personal injury liability, property liability, and comprehensive coverage. That is because these numbers are based on the average rates paid, which includes state-mandated uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage and any other add-ons the driver purchased.
We have also compiled a list of the 25 most expensive ZIP codes in California when it comes to auto insurance rates.
|ZIP Code||City||Average||Allstate Northbrook Indemnity||Farmers Ins Exchange||Geico General||SAFECO Ins Co of America||AMCO Insurance||United Financial Casualty||State Farm Mutual Auto||Travelers Commercial Ins Co.||USAA CIC|
Not surprisingly, many of the ZIP codes on the list are for Beverly Hills and other exclusive areas of Los Angeles and its surrounding suburbs, where people tend to drive luxury cars that are expensive to insure. Also, while the National Insurance Crime Bureau said LA was 38th in the nation when it comes to auto thefts per resident in 2018, there were still 53,928 auto thefts in the city that year.
What are the cheapest rates by city in California?
Since most people identify with their city than their ZIP code (with the 90210 ZIP code being a notable exception), we have also found the 25 California cities where residents pay the lowest annual auto insurance premiums.
|Rank||City||Average Grand Total|
It seems that one of the keys to low insurance premiums in California is to live in a small city because few on the list have populations topping 10,000, and some have populations of well under 1,000 (which, surprisingly, are still considered cities and not towns). All 25 cities on the list also have annual rates lower than the state average of $3,690.
We have also compiled a list of the 25 most expensive cities in California when it comes to average auto insurance rates paid by residents.
|Rank||City||Average Grand Total|
Once again the LA metropolitan area is well represented on the list of most expensive average rates, with LA proper coming in at 17th.
Enter your ZIP code below to view companies that have cheap auto insurance rates.
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Best California Car Insurance Companies
When it comes to choosing an auto insurer in California, the company matters. You don’t want to be picking an insurer that will be out of business in six months or one with a large number of customer complaints. Luckily for you, we have gathered data on the largest insurance providers in the state looking at these key factors:
- How healthy is the company financially?
- How is it ranked among its competitors?
- How well does the company serve its customers and handle complaints?
We will be breaking down these factors and more in the next few sections.
What are the financial ratings of the largest car insurance companies in California?
Judging the financial stability of an auto insurance provider is a difficult task requiring an analysis of complex financial criteria. Fortunately, the A.M. Best Company wades through all of an insurer’s financial information to give each of California’s largest auto insurers a letter grade based on their financial health.
Below are the grades for California’s 10 largest auto insurers.
|Providers||A.M. Best Rating|
|Auto Club Enterprises||A-|
All 10 of California’s top providers have received at least an A rating with State Farm, Geico, and USAA receiving an A.M. Best’s highest rating of A++. That’s good news for you because it shows the state’s top providers are financially healthy, which means they are a good bet to stay in the auto insurance business in the long run.
Which car insurance companies have the best ratings in California?
When it comes to ranking customer satisfaction with any product or service, JD Power has long been considered the gold standard. The company ranks customer satisfaction for everything from pickup trucks to hospitals and, luckily for us, that includes auto insurers.
Conveniently, JD Power recently released its findings for the California insurance market, the results of which we’ve compiled below. For comparison purposes, the average score of all California auto insurers was 817.
|Company||Satisfaction Rating (on a 1,000 point scale)||J.D. Power Power Circle Rating (out of 5)|
|Auto Club of Southern California||834||4|
|CSAA Insurance Group||809||3|
Only two companies, USAA and Esurance, received the five out of five circles in JD Power’s Power Circle Ratings, but five more received four circles. Nationwide and Kemper were rated worst for customer satisfaction with two-circle ratings. Nationwide, JD Power awarded no companies fewer than two circles for 2019.
Which car insurance companies have the most complaints in California?
The California Department of Insurance allows residents to file complaints against their auto insurers through its Consumer Complaints Center. The department is also kind enough to release the number of complaints it found to be justified for the state’s 50 largest auto insurers.
In addition to providing the number of justified complaints against each auto insurer, the Department of Insurance also provides consumers with a “complaint ratio” that states the number of justified complaints received per 100,000 customers. Below we have listed California’s 50 largest insurers, best to worst, based on their complaint ratios for 2018.
|Rank (Best to Worst)||Company||California Policies in 2018||Justified Complaint Ratio for 2018||Justified Complaints for 2018|
|1||Progressive Direct Ins Co||116,706||0.9||1|
|2||Progressive West Ins Co||347,237||0.9||3|
|3||National Gen Premier Ins Co||71,990||1.4||1|
|4||Interinsurance Exch Of The Automobile Club||2,535,450||1.7||42|
|5||Mid Century Ins Co||482,490||1.7||8|
|6||Mercury Ins Co||1,642,223||1.9||31|
|7||Viking Ins Co of WI||261,383||1.9||5|
|8||CSAA Ins Exch||1,988,732||2||39|
|9||Geico Ind Co||645,757||2||13|
|10||State Farm Mut Auto Ins Co||3,676,494||2.1||79|
|11||AMCO Ins Co||275,703||2.2||6|
|12||Geico Gen Ins Co||1,636,531||2.3||38|
|13||Allied Prop & Cas Ins Co||126,382||2.4||3|
|14||Wawanesa Gen Ins Co||517,448||2.5||13|
|15||California Cas Ind Exch||146,374||2.7||4|
|16||Farmers Ins Exch||1,380,360||2.9||40|
|17||21st Century Ins Co||550,850||2.9||16|
|18||Government Employees Ins Co||408,327||2.9||12|
|19||Geico Cas Co||257,315||3.1||8|
|20||United Serv Automobile Assn||422,672||3.3||14|
|21||Coast Natl Ins Co||210,897||3.3||7|
|22||Safeco Ins Co Of Amer||375,228||3.5||13|
|23||California Automobile Ins Co||283,864||3.5||10|
|24||Esurance Prop & Cas Ins Co||294,622||3.7||11|
|25||Farmers Specialty Ins Co||105,950||3.8||4|
|26||Allstate Northbrook Ind Co||1,972,875||4.1||81|
|27||Nationwide Ins Co of Amer||139,176||4.3||6|
|28||Garrison Prop & Cas Ins Co||158,982||4.4||7|
|29||USAA Cas Ins Co||494,944||4.6||23|
|30||United Financial Cas Co||476,963||4.8||23|
|31||IDS Prop Cas Ins Co||474,804||5.1||24|
|32||Progressive Select Ins Co||281,258||5.7||16|
|33||Infinity Ins Co||860,975||5.9||51|
|34||USAA Gen Ind Co||232,404||6.5||15|
|35||California Capital Ins Co||72,404||6.9||5|
|36||Amica Mut Ins Co||78,298||7.7||6|
|37||Kemper Independence Ins Co||71,399||8.4||6|
|38||Loya Cas Ins Co||235,959||8.9||21|
|39||Hartford Underwriters Ins Co||173,380||9.2||16|
|40||Liberty Mut Fire Ins Co||398,269||9.5||38|
|41||Alliance United Ins Co||1,155,358||10.2||118|
|42||Anchor Gen Ins Co||80,408||11.2||9|
|43||National Gen Ins Co||62,375||11.2||7|
|44||Financial Ind Co||212,229||11.3||24|
|45||Travelers Commercial Ins Co||198,198||11.6||23|
|46||Metropolitan Drt Prop & Cas Ins Co||130,786||12.2||16|
|47||Commerce W Ins Co||82,741||13.3||11|
|48||Integon Natl Ins Co||246,492||13.8||34|
|49||Permanent Gen Assur Corp||68,150||14.7||10|
|50||Western Gen Ins Co||92,900||33.4||31|
According to the Department of Insurance numbers, Progressive Direct Insurance Co. and Progressive West Insurance Co. have the lowest complaint ratios for the state, totaling just four justified complaints for 463,943 customers. Western General Insurance Co. had the highest complaint ratio, with 31 justified complaints for only 92,900 customers.
What are the cheapest car insurance companies in California?
We have collected the average annual rate information for the California customers of the state’s nine largest auto insurance providers to show which companies, on average, provide the lowest rates. Please note that this comparison does not take into account companies offering different coverage levels, more add-ons, or taking on more high-risk drivers than others.
However, the chart below should give you a general idea of the rates charged by each provider relative to the state average of $3,689.62.
|Company||Average Policy Cost||Compared to State Average||Percentage Above of Below State Average|
|Allstate Northbrook Indemnity||$4,533.09||$843.47||18.61%|
|Farmers Ins Exchange||$4,999.27||$1,309.64||26.20%|
|SAFECO Ins Co of America||$3,035.17||-$654.45||-21.56%|
|State Farm Mutual Auto||$4,202.72||$513.10||12.21%|
|Travelers Commercial Ins Co.||$3,350.78||-$338.84||-10.11%|
|United Financial Casualty||$2,851.14||-$838.48||-29.41%|
That’s quite a spread between the companies with the least and most expensive policies.
USAA CIC leads the way with policy rates that are, on average, almost 37 percent below the state average, while Farmers Insurance Exchange policies cost more than 26 percent more than the average. The difference in price between the rates charged by the two companies comes to more than $2,300 annually for California drivers.
Does my commute affect my car insurance rate in California?
Believe it or not, the length of your drive to work will have a notable impact on the prices you pay for auto insurance. Drivers commuting 10 miles or less usually pay lower premiums than those with a 25-mile commute.
While almost every company charges more for a longer commute, the overall impact on the rates you pay can vary substantially. Check out the chart below to see how your impact affects rates for some of California’s largest insurers.
|Company||10-Mile Commute||25-Mile Commute|
As you can see, the impact of your commute length has an impact on the rates paid customers of all nine listed companies, but the average difference between a 10-mile and a 25-mile commute tops $1,000 annually for Nationwide customers and is almost that much for several others. On the other hand, for State Farm, the difference was a little over $300.
Can coverage level change my car insurance rate with companies in California?
When buying most things in life, when you want more of something, you expect to pay more. The same holds true for auto insurance, where you can generally expect to pay more when you want more coverage. Below we have broken out the costs for different coverage levels for auto policies with California’s largest insurers.
|Company||Low Coverage Level||Medium Coverage Level||High Coverage Level|
For all coverage levels, USAA has the lowest annual rates with Geico offering the second-lowest rates for low- and medium-level coverage. Progressive offers the second-lowest rates for high coverage policies. Farmers had the highest premiums for all levels, usually by several hundred dollars.
How does my credit history affect my car insurance rate with companies in California?
Since California has banned insurers from using drivers’ credit scores to set auto insurance rates, drivers in the state do not need to worry about this issue. California is one of three states to ban this common industry practice, and the others are Massachusetts and Hawaii.
The auto insurance industry contends that your credit score is a great predictor of whether or not you will be filing an insurance claim requiring them to make a payout. Because of that, if you have low credit, auto insurers often charge you more to compensate them for the increased likelihood that you will be filing a claim. Frustratingly, insurers using credit scoring are not required to explain how your credit was scored.
Whether or not you should view California’s ban on credit scoring as a good thing likely depends on your personal credit score.
If you have bad credit, it likely reduces your rates because auto insurers cannot hold it against you. However, if you have good credit, you will end up paying the same rates as those drivers with bad credit. Finally, the ban on credit scoring has made insurers give other factors more weight, like your driving record, age, address, and car model.
How does my driving record affect my rates with car insurance companies in California?
Most Californians already know that traffic tickets, accidents, and driving under the influence (DUI) are likely to increase your insurance rates, but few know by how much. That’s why we took a look at how much the average Californian’s insurance rates increased after one of those events for each of the state’s major auto insurers.
|Company||Clean Record||With One Speeding Violation||With One At-Fault Accident||With One DUI|
From the data we have collected, you can see that drivers with a clean record will see their rates increase with a single speeding ticket, an accident where they are at fault, or DUI. However, not all insurers will increase their rates by the same amount.
USAA seems to punish one speeding and at-fault accidents the least, with average rates only increasing by $171 for a single speeding infraction and $875 for an accident. Liberty Mutual has the smallest rate jump for a DUI and has the lowest overall rates for a driver with a single DUI.
Which car insurance companies are the largest in California?
We have collected a list of the largest auto insurance companies in California by their share of direct premiums written in the state.
|Rank||Company||Direct Premiums Written||Loss Ratio||Market Share|
|5||Auto Club Enterprises Insurance||$2,312,230,000||65.03%||8.48%|
It should come as no surprise that the country’s largest auto insurance provider, State Farm Group, also has the largest share of California’s market, at more than 14 percent. Farmers Insurance Group is the only other auto insurer to have more than 10 percent of the market at 11.59 percent.
How many car insurance companies are available in California?
The table below breaks down the number of auto insurance providers in California by the number of domestic and foreign insurers currently operating in the state. Domestic insurers are companies formed in California, while foreign insurers were formed in other states.
|Property and Casualty Insurance||Number|
As you can see, there are far more auto insurers operating in California from other states than home-grown companies.
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In California, auto insurance and driving laws are established at the state level by either the state legislature, the California Department of Transportation, or the California Department of Insurance.
While most of the state’s motorist laws are similar to those found in other states, there are some key differences you should know about before you take to the road in California. You can learn about them below.
What are the car insurance laws in California?
Until 1988, California was one of the few states in the country where there were no state regulations on the insurance industry. The result was that rates skyrocketed.
Californians took the matter into their own hands and passed Prop 103, which required regulation of the insurance industry and stipulated that all rate changes must be approved by the California Department of Insurance. Prop 103 also implemented rules regarding good driver discounts and made credit scoring illegal.
Under Prop 103, California auto insurers must implement good driver policies giving 20 percent discounts if you have had a license for at least three years and have not had any of the following during those three years.
- More than one point on your driving record due to violations
- Attended traffic school more than once due to a traffic violation
- Been at-fault in an accident resulting in injury or death
How State Laws for Insurance Are Determined
Like nearly every other state, the California legislature has delegated authority for insurance oversight to the Department of Insurance. The department was founded in 1868, but the passage of Prop 103 broadened its regulatory authority and turned control of the department over to a commissioner elected through a statewide vote.
Generally, the Department of Insurance has enforcement authority for California’s insurance laws and regulates how insurers operate in the state. Prop 103 required the department to approve auto insurance rates before they can be implemented.
Believe it or not, but your car’s windshield is actually considered a piece of safety equipment that is governed by federal law. Those regulations, essentially, allow for limited cracks and chips in your windshield, so as they are not directly in front of the driver (the so-called “critical vision area”).
While federal law covers the windshield, itself, California law governs how insurers handle windshield replacement claims. In California, auto insurers may offer windshield replacement as part of their comprehensive coverage, but they may charge a deductible unless the policy specifically says the deductible will be waived.
If your insurance plan does cover windshield replacement, state law gives you the right to choose your own repair shop. However, you will be required to pay the difference between the cost of the repair at your shop and the repair cost for the insurer’s chosen vendor.
Drivers who have racked up certain violations in California, such as a DUI, may be required to purchase what is known as “high-risk insurance,” or SR-22 insurance. The SR-22 is a form that must be filed with the DMV by your insurer to demonstrate that your insurance complies with California’s state minimum requirements.
Insurers will also offer non-owner SR-22 policies for individuals who do not own a vehicle but still plan on driving.
As a general rule, SR-22 insurance is much more expensive than traditional auto insurance. That is a reflection of the fact insurers view you as a greater liability as a result of the traffic infraction that resulted in you needing to file an SR-22 in the first place.
An SR-22 must be filed annually for as long as it was required by the state. Typically, the state requires that the form be filed for three years, but there are provisions allowing for 10-year filing periods for serious infractions.
Finally, if a driver lets an SR-22 policy lapse, the insurer will notify the DMV immediately. If that happens, the driver’s driving privileges will be suspended by the DMV until another policy is in place.
If you live in California and you are having trouble affording auto insurance, we have some good news for you. The state is one of the few in the country to offer a low-cost auto insurance program. The policies are issued by state-licensed companies.
You will be eligible to participate if your income in your household falls below the amounts we’ve listed here.
|Household Size||Maximum Income|
Those drivers that meet the income criteria may purchase basic policies offering liability coverage up to these limits:
- $10,000 per person for bodily injury or death
- $20,000 maximum per accident for bodily injury or death
- $3,000 per accident in property damage liability.
The low-cost auto insurance program has issued a county-by-county rate chart for 2019 that we have included below. The chart reflects the following liability surcharges:
- 20 percent for single male drivers between 19 and 24
- 40 percent for drivers with a driving history of fewer than three years
- 100 percent for policy owners and operators aged 18 or under
|County||Liability||Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury||Medical Payments||Youthful Male Surcharge||Inexperienced Driver Surcharge||Age 16–18 Driver Surcharge|
|San Luis Obispo||$247||$32||$22||$321||$346||$494|
Even with the low-cost insurance plan, Los Angeles and Orange County drivers pay $594 in total annual premiums, significantly higher rates than most other counties. When the liability surcharge for drivers 18 and under is applied, and the rates for uninsured motorist bodily injury and medical payments are added in, drivers aged 16 to 18 will be pay 1,084 annually for “low cost” insurance.
Automobile Insurance Fraud in California
Auto insurance fraud is a deliberate deception against, or by, an insurance company for financial gain. In California, insurance fraud is covered under both the penal and insurance codes.
Two of the most common forms of auto insurance fraud are the padding of damage claims following an accident to get a larger payout from an insurer and lying on an insurance application. Another common form of auto insurance fraud is to claim injuries or damage that never happened.
In California, insurance fraud prosecutions generally require a showing of intent on the part of the defendant. In other words, a prosecutor must show that individuals took steps to claim benefits to which they were not entitled or that they exaggerated a claim to receive more benefits.
Insurance fraud can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the type and amount of the fraudulent claim. The penalty for misdemeanor insurance fraud in California is up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Felony insurance fraud can be punished by up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $50,000.
The California Department of Insurance has its own fraud division dedicated to investigating all types of insurance fraud, including auto insurance fraud. They are trained criminal investigators and sworn peace officers. In addition to conducting investigations, they can serve warrants, make arrests, and testify in court.
Statute of Limitations
In California, drivers have a two-year deadline for bringing suit for damages resulting from the wrongful act or negligence of another. Stripping away the legalese that basically means that you only have two years from the date of an accident to file suit against an at-fault driver for injuries or damage you may have suffered.
However, in cases of wrongful death, the suit must be filed within three years of the individual’s death. That means the clock does not necessarily start running on the date of the accident. If someone is injured in an accident and dies from those injuries a year later, the family or estate will have three years from that time to file their lawsuit — which would be four years from the date of the accident.
If you are filing a lawsuit against a negligent driver for property damage, you will have three years from the date of the accident to file.
Finally, there are certain exceptions to the limitations periods that will pause the running of the clock (legally referred to as “tolling”). One scenario for tolling is when the party did not discover an injury until after the limitations period had expired. The party then has one year from the discovery of the injury to file suit.
Additional situations when the statute of limitations may be tolled are when the injured party was under the age of 18 (it is tolled until they reach 18), out of state, in prison, or legally insane.
While the rules of the road are mostly the same across the country, there are a few California driving rules that you should probably be aware of before you take to the road there.
One law California drivers need to know about is the one barring drivers from blocking intersections. That means if you cannot get all the way through a traffic light before it turns red, you can be ticketed if you block traffic. So be sure you can make it all the way through if you are entering an intersection with a traffic light when traffic is heavy (which is more often than not in some California locales).
California drivers should also know the rules for carpool and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. Many urban areas dedicate a lane during rush hours for buses and vehicles with more than one or two people in them (yes, some heavily used HOV lanes require at least two passengers, in addition to the driver). The lanes are usually well marked, and if the California Highway Patrol finds you using them during posted rush hours, you will be heavily fined.
Finally, some on-ramps for some of California’s freeways and major bridges have what are known as “metering lights.” These are red/green lights at the side of the ramp at eye level, which flash red and green to let one car on at a time. Metering lights are pretty simple in concept, but often surprise out-of-state drivers who are not looking for them.
What are the vehicle licensing laws in California?
Out-of-state vehicles that are registered in another state must be registered in California within 20 days of either moving to the state or getting a job there. The following items are needed to register an out-of-state vehicle in California:
- An application for title or registration that has been completed or signed
- Verification of the vehicle identification number (VIN) by a DMV employee, law enforcement officer, or auto club employee
- The out-of-state title for the vehicle or the most recent out-of-state registration card if the title is not available
- Any required smog certification
- Weight certificate (this only applies to commercial vehicles)
- Any vehicle registration fees or use tax that may be due
- A completed odometer mileage disclosure statement, if needed.
If you are a California resident who has acquired a new vehicle, truck, or motorcycle in another state or country, you need to make sure it meets California’s smog laws, or it will not qualify for registration.
When you purchase a new vehicle from a California dealer, you will be given temporary operating authority after the required documents are submitted to the DMV. You will usually receive a registration card, license plate, and valid registration sticker within six to eight weeks.
If you are a California resident who purchases or otherwise acquires a vehicle from a private party, you are required to transfer ownership with the DMV within 10 days. When you sell a vehicle, you have five days to report it to the DMV.
Emissions inspections, known as smog inspections, are required for all California vehicles except diesel vehicles from the 1997 model year or older, or weigh more than 14,000 pounds. Additionally, natural gas and electric vehicles are exempt from the requirement, as are motorcycles and gas-powered vehicles from before 1976.
When you acquire a vehicle that is less than four model years old, smog certification is not required, unless it is diesel-powered, but you will need to pay a smog transfer fee. If the vehicle is more than four years old, the seller must provide evidence of smog certification, unless the transfer is between family members or the vehicle was tested in the previous 90 days.
A REAL ID is a California-issued identification card that also serves as a federally accepted form of identification that can be used to board domestic airline flights or enter some types of secure federal facilities. REAL ID driver’s licenses are optional in California, so you can still get a license that does not comply with the federal REAL ID Act (so you can’t use it to board a plane).
The simplest way to check whether your California license is a federally compliant REAL ID card is to look for the golden bear with a star on it in the upper-right-hand-corner of your license.
If you want the switch to a REAL ID license, or have moved to California from a state that is not compliant with the REAL ID Act, you will need to bring one of the following documents to the DMV with you:
- Valid U.S. passport or passport card
- Original or certified copy of your birth certificate, if born in the U.S.
- U.S. certificate of birth abroad, or consular report of birth abroad showing you are a citizen
Unexpired foreign passport with a valid U.S. visa and an approved I-94 form
- Certificate of naturalization or of U.S. citizenship
- Valid permanent resident card
- Valid employment authorization document (EAD), EAD card or a valid/expired EAD card with a notice of action
- Valid or expired permanent resident card with a notice of action or approval notice
- Unexpired foreign passport stamped “Processed for I-551”
- Documents demonstrating eligibility for temporarily protected status.
You will also need to bring an original document that shows your name and full social security number along with two forms of proof of California residency.
Penalties for Driving Without Insurance
There are only three specific times when a California driver is required to show proof of insurance: when requested by law enforcement, when renewing vehicle registration and when the vehicle is involved in a collision. If you do not show proof of insurance, especially following an accident, you may be subject to one of the penalties listed below.
|First Offense||Fine up to $200 + penalty assessments
Possible vehicle impounding
|Second Offense (within three years)||Fine up to $500 + penalty assessments
Possible vehicle impounding
One final note, if you are not a California resident, but caught driving without insurance, you will also be subject to the above penalties. Insurance is required for all drivers on California’s roads, whether you are a resident or not.
Teen Driver Laws
California has a multi-stage licensing process for teens under the age of 18. The system is designed to give teens gradual exposure to complicated driving situations over an extended period. You can see the different stages laid out, by age, below.
|Restriction||Permit||Provisional License||Full License|
|Minimum Age||15 1/2||16||18|
|Prerequisites||– Teen and parent must bring proof of residency, SSN, and a copy of the birth certificate to a driver exam office|
– Teen must pass a written test
– Teen must have completed or be enrolled in a driver education course
|– Must have completed 50 hours behind the wheel (10 of which at night)|
– Drivers education program
– Pass a driving test
|Passenger||Must be accompanied by a licensed parent, guardian, spouse, or instructor over 25 years old||No passengers under 20 except when accompanied by a licensed driver over 25||No restrictions|
|Cell Phone||Cellphones prohibited (even hands-free)||Cellphones prohibited (even hands-free)||– Hand-held prohibited – Hands-free cell phone use allowed|
|Time of Day||No restrictions||– First 12 months, no driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. (some exceptions)||No restrictions|
Even when teens reach the age of 18 in California, they may not be eligible for a full license if they are subject to restrictions from the DMV or a court have had their license suspended or are on probation.
Older Driver License Renewal Procedures
In California, most driver’s licenses must be renewed every five years and, until drivers reach the age of 70, they are eligible for two automatic five-year renewals if they want to renew online or by mail.
However, drivers who are 70 and older must renew their license in person every five years and are required to take the vision and written test at that time. The road test will only be administered if there are reports of impairment from a doctor, law enforcement officer, or family member.
California is also one of the few states that require a doctor who has diagnosed a patient with any condition that is likely to impair driving, such as Alzheimer’s disease, to report that diagnosis to the local health department. The health department must then forward the report to the DMV, which has the discretion to either revoke the patient’s license or require a driving test.
The DMV is allowed to place certain restrictions on a driver’s license after giving a driving test, but are required to first discuss the possible restrictions with the driver. The most common restriction is requiring that the driver wear glasses or other corrective lenses. However, the DMV is also allowed to impose the following restrictions:
- No freeway driving
- The addition of another right-side mirror
- No driving after dark
- Time restrictions (no driving in rush-hour traffic)
- Supports that ensure the driver is in the proper position
- The use of bioptic telescopic lens while driving.
While it will not accept anonymous reports, the DMV will accept information about unsafe drivers from just about any source. The individual making the report can request that their identity not be disclosed to the driver.
If you move to California and drive, you are required to get your California driver’s license within 10 days. You may establish residency by voting, filing for a homeowner’s property tax exemption, paying in-state tuition, or taking advantage of any other privilege the state does not usually extend to non-residents.
Unfortunately, even if you have a valid license in another state, you will still be required to visit the California DMV to take the written and vision tests. However, if you pass both of those tests, your driving test will usually be waived.
Your old, out-of-state license will be nullified when the California license is issued, so it will no longer be valid.
California is also one of two states that allow drivers the option of selecting M, F, or X on their license. Under current state law, someone who identifies their gender using an X is considered nonbinary.
License Renewal Procedures
California driver’s licenses must be renewed every five years on the driver’s birthday. Licenses are renewable for five-year periods. California also allows drivers to renew their licenses online.
If a California driver would rather renew by mail, they may also do so if they are not on probation, and they have no violations of certain specified traffic laws within the two years prior to renewal. Additionally, the driver’s record must show no more than one point, chemical test refusals, and no license suspensions.
Drivers are allowed two five-year license renewals online or by mail before they need to return to the DMV for a renewal.
In essence, that means drivers with clean driving records only need to return to the DMV for license renewal every 15 years. If the DMV requires you to retake the written test, you must be told about it in advance of your visit.
As we’ve discussed above, at age 70, all drivers must report to the DMV for renewal.
Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS)
California’s Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS) is based on negligent operator points and automatically generates a series of computer-written letters to warn drivers and notify them of sanctions against their driving privileges.
Your California traffic convictions and accidents stay on record for at least 36 months, sometimes longer for more serious offenses. We have gathered information on the point counts, time periods, and penalties here:
|Level||Within 12 Months||Within 24 Months||Within 36 Months|
|Level I – Warning Letter||2 points||4 points||6 points|
|Level II – Notice of Intent to Suspend||3 points||5 points||7 points|
|Level III – Probation/Suspension||4 points||6 points||8 points|
After receiving a NOTS notice from the DMV, a driver has the option of requesting a formal hearing. Drivers have 10 days after the date the notice was issued to request the formal hearing with the DMV to dispute any inaccuracies in their driving record or present evidence as to why they should not be classified as negligent.
What are the rules of the road in California?
If you get into an accident in California, who pays for the damage? Does the state have any keep-right laws? When are car seats required? You can find the answers to those questions and more below.
Fault Versus No-Fault
When it comes to accident insurance claims states, use two types of systems: fault and no-fault. The majority of the states are fault states, and California is one of them, so if you seek to recover damages following an accident, you must prove that it was someone else’s fault.
In fault states like California, the driver who is responsible for any losses that occur as the result of an accident is the responsibility of the at-fault driver. If both drivers are found to be at fault for an accident, responsibility for the damages is also shared.
Once the driver at fault has been determined, usually by a police report, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is legally required to cover losses from the accident based on their share, causing it. California uses a comparative negligence system, therefore each party to an accident is found responsible for the portion of the damage they were found to have caused.
If you are in an accident and the other driver’s actions caused most of the damage, you will be able to recover most, but not all, of the damages from the other driver’s insurance. You cannot recover for the portion of the damage caused by your actions.
For example, if you were speeding down a road and hit another driver who has ignored a stop sign, investigators or a court may determine that your speeding was 20 percent of the reason the accident occurred (after all, if you hadn’t been speeding, maybe you could have stopped in time). In that scenario, you would only receive payment for 80 percent of the damage from your insurer (the total cost of the damage minus the 20 percent that was your fault).
Does California’s at-fault and comparative negligence system sound complicated? That’s because it is. It is also the reason there are thousands of lawyers working for both drivers and insurers in California who are fighting over how much an insurance provider should pay after an accident.
Seat Belt and Car Seat Laws
California law requires all drivers and passengers to wear seat belts while driving. Both drivers and passengers may be cited (so you can be ticketed, even if you weren’t driving). Also, if a passenger under the age of 16 is not wearing a seat belt, you are the one facing a citation.
State law also requires that children be secured by either a federally-approved child car seat or a safety belt, depending on their height and age. Airbag deployments when a child is in a rear-facing car seat are often fatal, so no child in a rear-facing seat is allowed to ride in the front seat of a vehicle with its airbags activated.
The following rules generally apply when it comes to children and car seats:
- Children under two must be in a rear-facing seat unless they weigh more than 40 pounds or are taller than 40 inches
- Children under eight, or under 4 feet 9 inches, must be secured in a federally approved car seat or booster seat
There are some situations under which a child under the age of 8 is allowed to ride in the front seat, some of which are listed here:
- The vehicle has no back seat
- The rear seats either face sideways or the rear of the vehicle
- The required restraint system cannot be installed in the back seat
- The back seat is already fully occupied by younger children.
Keep Right and Move Over Laws
California law requires that anyone who is driving at a speed that is slower than the surrounding traffic flow drive in the right-hand lane, regardless of the posted speed limit.
California has what is known as a “basic speed law,” which says that no person is allowed to drive at a speed that is greater than is reasonable and prudent given the traffic and weather conditions. It also states that under no circumstances may someone drive at a speed that endangers either life or property.
That said, California does enforce speed limits on its roads and highways. As a general rule, the following speed limits apply to the listed road type:
|Roadway||Speed Limit||Truck Speed Limit|
|Rural interstates (mph)||70||55|
|Urban interstates (mph)||65||55|
|Other limited access roads (mph)||70||55|
|Other roads (mph)||65||55|
As a general rule, California treats those speed limits the upper limit for those types of roads. The state and its cities practice what is known as “speed zoning” that establishes speed limits that are considered reasonable and safe for specific sections of roadway. Those speed limits may be much lower than the legal maximum for the roadway type.
Ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber are both legal in California and quite popular with its residents. Drivers for ridesharing services are usually required to maintain their own insurance policy, and those trips are rarely covered under standard auto insurance policies.
However, rideshare drivers in California are in luck because eight major insurance companies offer policies that are specifically tailored to their needs. Those companies are Allstate, Farmers, Liberty Mutual, Mercury, Metlife, Metromile, State Farm, and USAA.
Automation on the Road
Autonomous vehicles are legal on California’s roads, and the DMV has been charged with adopting regulations addressing both their testing and use. The DMV currently has three vehicle permit options for autonomous vehicles:
- Testing permit for vehicles with a driver
- Driverless testing permit
- Deployment (public use) permit.
In December 2019, California’s Office of Administrative law approved regulations that allow for the testing of automated trucks for use as delivery vehicles. However, only light trucks are allowed, and automated vehicles cannot weigh more than 10,001 pounds.
What are the safety laws in California
Now we will take a look at the laws that help keep you safe on the road. In this section we will review California’s laws regarding DUI, distracted driving and other safety issues.
California has strict DUI laws for drivers found to have a blood-alcohol content (BAC) over 0.08 percent that require mandatory prison sentences, fines, and license suspensions. You can see the fines and penalties if you are convicted of a DUI below.
|Penalty Type||First Offense||Second Offense (in 10 years)||Third and Subsequent Offenses|
|License Suspension||Four months||One year||One year|
|Imprisonment||96 hours to six months with 48 hours continuous||96 hours to six months with 48 hours continuous||30 days to one year with 48 hours continuous|
|Fine||$390–$1000 plus $125 license reinstatement fee||$390–$1000 plus $125 license reinstatement fee||$390–$1000 plus $125 license reinstatement fee|
|Other||Completion of a DUI program for license reinstatement||Completion of a DUI program for license reinstatement|
Installation and use of an ignition interlock device (IID) for license reinstatement
|Completion of a DUI program for license reinstatement
Installation and use of an IID for license reinstatement
Judges are allowed to impose additional conditions on a driver’s DUI sentence. Those include attending a support group or a victim impact program.
California also imposes enhanced penalties for drivers found to have a BAC of more than 0.16 percent, twice the legal limit.
Marijuana-Impaired Driving Laws
Recreational marijuana was legalized in California in January 2018, but it is illegal to drive under the drug’s influence. As a general rule, the penalties for driving while high in California mirror those of traditional DUI convictions. It should also be noted that prior DUI convictions are counted for sentencing purposes.
While driving while high can get you into legal trouble in California, there is still no scientifically valid legal standard for determining when a driver is under the influence.
Officers have been trained in identifying drugged drivers and use a number of factors in their determinations, including the defendant’s driving, field sobriety tests, and finding marijuana in the vehicle.
If an officer finds probable cause to believe that you were driving while high, a drug test may be ordered. However, DUI attorneys are quick to point out that tests looking for the drug in your blood or urine can only tell if you have used it in the past few days or weeks, not if you were high when pulled over.
Distracted Driving Laws
California law bars drivers from using a cell phone while driving unless they are using a hands-free device. If you are caught not using your phone in hands-free mode, you will face a $20 fine, with the fine increased to $50 for repeat offenders.
California has also barred drivers from texting while driving. Originally, the state had only barred texting, the law was changed to bar all handheld devices while driving. The fine for being caught texting while driving is $20 for the first offense and $50 for each additional offense.
Driving in California
Just how safe is it to drive in California? How likely is it that my car will be stolen? Where do the most driving deaths occur? We have gathered the answers to those questions and many others in the sections that follow.
How many vehicle thefts occur in California?
According to the Insurance Information Institute and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, California had 155,211 reported motor vehicle thefts during 2018, which was more than twice as large as the number for Texas that year (69,817). Even taking into account California’s disproportionately large population by only counting vehicle thefts for every 100,000 in population, it still comes in fifth.
While you are more likely to have your car stolen in California than most other states, car thieves tend to target specific makes and models of cars in California. We have compiled the list below to show you which cars were stolen most in 2016 by make, model, and year.
|3||Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size)||2006||6,048|
|5||Ford Pickup (Full Size)||2006||4,504|
As you can see, late-1990s model Hondas were by far the most popular target for California car thieves. Honda Accords from 1996 and Honda Civics from 1998 were each stolen more than 28,000 times in 2016.
In the same way that some vehicles are stolen more often than others, car thieves target some cities more than others. Below we have broken out the 50 cities in California with the highest number of vehicle thefts in 2016
|City||Motor Vehicle Thefts|
Los Angeles was far and away the state’s leader when it comes to car theft, almost doubling the number stolen in the second-place city, San Jose.
How many road fatalities occur in California?
Just how dangerous are California’s roads for drivers? Sure, the state has a lot of road fatalities, but when you have the most drivers, that is to be expected. How about deaths per 100,000 population? That will give you a better idea of how likely it is you’ll be involved in a fatal accident. We have gathered that information and much more so you can see how dangerous the roads are for yourself.
Most Fatal Highway in California
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, the most dangerous highway in California is I-5, where 192 people died in vehicular accidents between 2015 and 2017. That comes as no surprise because nearly 800 miles of the heavily traveled interstate highway runs north-south through the state.
The second most dangerous highway during that time span was US-101, where 139 people lost their lives. Third was SR-99, where 110 people died.
Fatal Crashes by Weather Condition and Light Condition
While California is probably most famous for the bright, sunny conditions which prevail in the Los Angeles area for most of the year, some portions of the state actually see more than their fair share of rain and snowstorms, especially in the mountainous areas. To give you an idea as to the role storms and darkness play in California accidents, we have broken down the state’s 2015 fatality data by weather and light condition below.
|Weather Condition||Daylight||Dark, but Lighted||Dark||Dawn or Dusk||Other/Unknown||Total (2015)|
The vast majority of California’s vehicle fatalities for that year were not the result of the weather, with 3,089 of those deaths occurring on dry roads. Darkness appears to have played more of a factor, with more than half of the fatalities occurring while the sun was down.
Fatalities (All Crashes) by County
California has 58 counties, with all but one experiencing multiple fatal vehicle accidents in 2017. You can see how many fatal accidents took place in your county between 2013 and 2017, and its fatality rate per 100,000 residents in the chart below.
|County||Fatalities 2013||Fatalities 2014||Fatalitites 2015||Fatalities 2016||Fatalitites 2017||Rates per 100,000 Population 2013||Rates per 100,000 Population 2014||Rates per 100,000 Population 2015||Rates per 100,000 Population 2016||Rates per 100,000 Population 2017|
|San Luis Obispo||28||32||34||32||34||10.15||11.49||12.13||11.34||11.34|
As is to be expected when it’s home to some of the most heavily traveled roads in the country, Los Angeles County led the state in vehicle death each year from 2015 to 2017.
However, when looking at the number of fatal accidents per 100,000 in population, you discover that Los Angeles County was actually one of the safest, hovering between 6.34 and 8.25 during those five years. For comparison, Trinity County’s was between 38.19 and 62.31.
In other words, in some years over that span, you were 10 times more likely to die in a car accident in Trinity County than Los Angeles County.
Most Californians think of their state as fairly urban, especially the western half. However, it is likely the state is more urban than you’d think because the U.S. Census Bureau defines urban areas in two ways: urbanized areas of more than 50,000 and “urban clusters” of between 2,500 and 50,000.
Applying the Census Bureau’s definition, most of California’s population lives in urban areas, even those residents living in small cities in the state’s western regions. So when the NHTSA breaks down traffic fatalities by rural and urban areas, its rural areas are very sparsely populated. You can see their 10-year numbers below.
Given how much of California’s population lives in Urban areas, it’s surprising there is not a bigger difference in fatalities between urban and rural areas. For example, in 2017, 36 percent of all traffic fatalities were on rural roads.
Fatalities by Person Type
When someone talks about “traffic fatalities,” they can be discussing everything from a two-car collision on I-5 to a grandmother who was struck while crossing the street to her mailbox in Fresno. To help clarify who is actually dying in California’s traffic accidents, we have broken down the fatalities by person type below.
|California Traffic Deaths by Person Type||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017|
|Passenger Car Occupants||1,098||1,066||1,170||1,357||1,269|
|Utility Truck Occupants||241||271||288||307||336|
|Pick-up Truck Occupants||239||209||294||278||279|
|Large Truck Occupants||38||33||32||48||53|
Probably the biggest takeaway from the above chart is the relatively large number of pedestrians who die in California traffic accidents each year, more than two-thirds the number who die in cars. This shows that you need to be alert for pedestrians on California’s roads.
Fatalities by Crash Type
The NTSA also keeps track of the type of vehicular crash where someone died as a result. You can see the five-year trends in the chart below.
|Crash Type||2013 Fatalities||2014 Fatalities||2015 Fatalities||2016 Fatalities||2017 Fatalities|
|Single Vehicle Crash||1,922||1,861||1,987||2,273||2,067|
|Roadway Departure Involved||1,442||1,374||1,530||1,754||1,588|
|Involving an Intersection||797||811||881||1,024||927|
|Large Truck Involved||259||301||305||354||361|
You will notice that, if you add up the total number of 2017 fatalities listed above, you will get a number that is larger than the 3,602 in total vehicle fatalities for that year. That’s because a fatal accident may fall into more than one category. If a single-vehicle fatal crash involved a speeding driver, it will be included in both the single-vehicle and speeding categories.
Five-Year Trend for the Top 10 Counties
Below we have listed the five-year trends for the 10 California counties with the highest number of vehicular deaths in 2017.
|County||Fatalities 2013||Fatalities 2014||Fatalitites 2015||Fatalities 2016||Fatalitites 2017||Rates per 100,000Population 2013||Rates per 100,000 Population 2014||Rates per 100,000 Population 2015||Rates per 100,000 Population 2016||Rates per 100,000 Population 2017|
Los Angeles County has twice as many fatal accidents as the second-place county, Riverside, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its roads are more dangerous. In terms of accidents per 100,000 residents, it is one of the safest on our list.
Fatalities Involving Speeding by County
Speeding is a factor in a high percentage of fatal accidents, especially those not involving another vehicle. You can see the number of speeding fatalities in alphabetical order by county from 2013 to 2017 below.
|County||Fatalities 2013||Fatalities 2014||Fatalities 2015||Fatalities 2016||Fatalities 2017||Rate per 100,000 Population 2013||Rate per 100,000 Population 2014||Rate per 100,000 Population 2015||Rate per 100,000 Population 2016||Rate per 100,000 Population 2017|
|San Luis Obispo||8||11||7||8||13||2.9||3.95||2.5||2.83||4.59|
Los Angeles County leads the way when it comes to speeding fatalities, which seems strange given that the county is famous for gridlocked traffic leaving drivers unable to move at all.
Fatalities in Crashes Involving an Alcohol-Impaired Driver by County
While drunk driving deaths have decreased significantly in the past few decades, it is still a common factor in motor vehicle accidents. To see how many vehicle fatalities were the result of someone driving drunk, check out the chart below.
|County||Fatalities 2013||Fatalities 2014||Fatalities 2015||Fatalities 2016||Fatalities 2017||Fatallitiy Rate per 100,000 Population 2013||Fatallitiy Rate per 100,000 Population 2014||Fatallitiy Rate per 100,000 Population 2015||Fatallitiy Rate per 100,000 Population 2016||Fatallitiy Rate per 100,000 Population 2017|
|San Luis Obispo||4||8||12||11||13||1.45||2.87||4.28||3.9||4.59|
As with nearly all other fatality-related statistics, Los Angeles County leads the way when it comes to fatalities involving someone driving while intoxicated. However, if you look at the number of alcohol-related fatalities per 100,000, the county actually has one of the lowest fatality rates.
Teen Drinking and Driving
According to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibly, California is just slightly higher than the national average when it comes to alcohol-impaired driving fatalities under the age of 21. California had 1.3 fatalities per 100,000 in population, while the national average was 1.2.
You can see the arrest statistics for under 18 DUI and 18 and over DUI here:
|Age||DUI Arrests||DUI Arrests per Million People (by age)||National Rank|
|18 and Older||129,752||4,302.53||20|
Despite leading the nation in the number of DUI arrests drivers above and below the age of 18, California’s arrests per million residents place it 36th in the country when it comes to drivers under the age of 18 and 20th when it comes to all drivers.
EMS Response Time
This is where we usually break out the differences in EMS response times between California’s rural and urban areas. However, for 2017 the NHTSA was able to collect almost no data on California’s EMS runs. According to its most recent reports, the NHSTA was unable to collect data on 99.3 percent of urban responses and 99.9. In other words, we have data on fewer than one in every 100 runs in California, one in 1,000 in rural areas.
All that said, according to the small amount of data available, the average time that elapsed between a fatal crash and the patient arriving at the hospital was a little more than 24 minutes in urban areas. For rural areas, it was five minutes. However, remember that the five minute time is based on fewer than two hospital runs out of 1,239.
What is transportation like in California?
It seems that everyone has stories about how hard it can be to get around in California, but how many of them are true? Is traffic really as bad as everyone says? Do we really spend more time in our cars than anywhere else in the country? We have gathered the answers to those questions and many others for you here.
Given that few California cities have little public transportation and it is often difficult to get around on foot, it comes as little surprise that 96.6 percent of state households own at least one vehicle, which is above the national average for 2018. You can see a breakdown of California’s vehicle ownership against the national average below.
|Number of Cars Owned||Percentage of California Households||Percentage of Households Nationwide|
While California is below the national average when it comes to households who own zero, one or two vehicles, it is above the national average when it comes to owning three or more vehicles.
California’s urban areas are famous for their traffic gridlocks, and long commutes, and the statistics do indeed show that residents spend more time in their cars than the national average. We have broken out California’s 2018 commute times against the national average below.
|Commute Times, in Minutes||Percentage of California Commuters||Percentage of Commuters Nationwide|
|Less than five||1.68%||2.7%|
|Five to nine||7.14%||9.32%|
Looks like the numbers that were compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show what most Californians have long assumed. A lot of residents spend a lot of time commuting to and from work, more than the national average. Almost 45 percent of Californians commute more than 30 minutes daily, compared to 39 percent of drivers nationwide.
How do most Californians get to work? According to the Census Bureau, just under 74 percent of commuters drove alone in 2018, with 10 percent carpooling. Six percent of Californians worked at home, while just under 5 percent took public transit. The remaining 7 percent either walked, biked, or found other means for getting to work.
Traffic Congestion in California
According to the INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, Los Angeles was the country’s fifth-ranked city (47th worldwide) when it comes to auto congestion. It found the average LA driver lost 128 hours each year to congestion (5.3 days) and that congestion cost the average driver $1,788 annually.
Joining LA on the INTRIX top 20 was San Francisco, eighth in the country with 116 hours lost annually (4.8 days).
Another congestion index is the TomTom Traffic Index, which uses GPS data to compile its list. TomTom found LA to be the country’s most congested city (24th worldwide) and San Francisco to be third (55th worldwide). San Diego, Sacramento, and Riverside also found their way into TomTom’s U.S. top 20, at 12th, 17th, and 19th, respectively.
One final traffic congestion index is the Numbeo Traffic Index by City 2019, which found LA to be the country’s second most congested city. It also found San Francisco was seventh, San Diego 18th and San Jose 27th.
Once you get out of traffic and have made it safely to your destination, start comparison shopping car insurance rates today.