Some traffic offenses exist to help ensure safety. When you drive, there is always a chance that you may get into a car accident. When you do, it is vital that you carry car insurance. Rather than ensuring safety, this law is in place to help sure that others have the ability to get their medical bills paid if you injure them on the road. Because of this, it is illegal to drive without insurance in California. The Ventura, CA criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth explain how this offense is punished, and whether it qualifies as “criminal” under California law.

Is Driving Without Insurance a Crime in CA?

California has three general levels of offense:

  • Felony – These are the most serious levels of crime and many carry state prison sentences, though some are punished with long terms of probation. Most of these crimes are either violent crimes, or are in some way more serious levels of crime.
  • Misdemeanor – These crimes are less serious offenses, and are punished with county jail sentences, probation, a fine, or some combination.
  • Infraction – These are technically still “crimes,” but are very low-level offenses punished only with a fine.

Most traffic offenses are infractions in California. This means that you should never face jail time for the offense, and should only be punished with a fine. However, repeated offenses, failure to pay fines, skipping court dates, and other problematic behavior may amount to another charge, higher fines, and can cause you to be arrested. For instance, a very high number of outstanding tickets could result in your arrest and possible jail time.

In California, it is a traffic offense against Vehicle Code § 16028 to drive without insurance. Under this statute, you are required to show your “evidence of financial responsibility” to a police officer upon request. If you do not have insurance, you will be violating this law. In addition, this law also applies to not carrying your insurance in your car. If you have insurance, be sure to place proof of insurance in your glove compartment or another easily accessible place in your car.

The law does consider that drivers might use their cell phone or another mobile device to present their proof of insurance. That means you may be able to keep an app or photograph on your phone as proof of insurance. The law does warn, however, that any damage to the device is not the police officer’s responsibility.

Defending Against Driving Without Insurance Charges in California

If you are pulled over for an accident or another offense, police may ask for your insurance along with your vehicle registration and drivers’ license. If you do not have proof of insurance, police will usually write you a ticket for this and any other driving offenses. This may require appearing in court for an arraignment, paying bail, and appearing at a trial for the ticket. If this is one more ticket on top of many other tickets, you could be facing more serious charges. However, for a basic case, you could end the case by simply paying the ticket. You should never, however, ignore a California traffic ticket.

In other cases, this may not be an option. If you did have insurance, but simply lacked the proof of insurance or were carrying an older, expired copy, you may have a case. A judge or the police officer who wrote you the ticket may be willing to accept proof of insurance at court and drop the ticket. If you can bring the proper paperwork showing you did indeed have insurance when you were ticketed, they may be willing to let it go.

If you were ticketed for driving without insurance for a first offense, you face a fine of $100-$200, plus court costs and other fees. If you face a second offense within three years, you face a fine of $200-$500 plus costs. Courts may also, for good cause, impound your vehicle if you still cannot provide proof of insurance. These fines and costs can quickly become very high, and you may need an attorney to help try and beat the ticket or argue for reduced fines and release of your vehicle.

Ventura, California Criminal Defense Lawyers

A Ventura criminal defense attorney at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth represents those charged with crimes. Even traffic tickets and other infractions can carry heavy fines, confusing legal situations, and potential penalties you may want to avoid. For a free consultation on your case and to see how our lawyers may be able to help, contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555.