california driving information
Welcome to our California driver's fact sheet. It's a convenient rundown of the road rules, licensing info, and other stats that affect drivers in The Golden State.
California driving stats, facts, and laws
Number of licensed drivers: 23,000,000
Registered vehicles: 34,433,000
Licensing and registration authority: California Department of Motor Vehicles
Total miles of public roads: 171,874 (more than 4 percent of the national mileage)
Number of work commuters in 2009: 16,145,601
Average commuting time: 26.8 minutes
Carpoolers: 11.7 percent
Gallons of fuel used in 2009: 14,353 million (most in the nation that year)
California driving record points
The state applies 1 or 2 points to your California driving record for traffic violations or at-fault accidents. More serious driving violations, like DUIs or driving with a suspended license, garner 2 points. Less serious violations and at-fault accidents typically add one point to your driving record.
Your license may be suspended or revoked if you accumulate the following driver points:
- 4 points in 12 months, or
- 6 points in 24 months, or
- 8 points in 36 months
DUIs and your driving record
A DUI will stay on your driving record for 10 years.
All drivers are banned from using handheld phones while driving. Texting is also against the law.
Driving without a license is illegal in all states. In California, unlicensed drivers may be charged with a misdemeanor and have their cars impounded.
How long points stay on a driving record
Most traffic violations and at-fault accidents will stay on your driving record for 3 years. More serious traffic violations, like DUIs and hit-and-runs, stay on your record for 10 years.
Reporting accidents in California
California law requires you to report to all accidents resulting in injuries (even minor ones) to the DMV. Accidents causing $750 or more in property damages must be reported as well.
If you're moving to California, you have 10 days to apply for a new California drivers license. If you're just visiting and you're older than 18, you can drive as long as your current license remains valid.
If you're between 16 and 18 years old, you can only drive in California for 10 days with a valid license from another state or country. After the 10-day period you need a valid license or what's called a "nonresident minor's certificate" in order to legally drive in the state.
California doesn't recognize international driving permits but does recognize official licenses from other countries.
Out-of-state car accidents and driving records
If you live in California and you're in an out-of-state accident, it may be reported to your home DMV through the Problem Driver Pointer System (PDPS) or out-of-state law enforcement. The state's DMV may add points to your driving record if there's enough information available to determine you're the at-fault driver.
Drivers in the military
If you're deployed and have a California license, your license will stay valid past the expiration date so long as you contact the DMV for a DL 236 card. Licenses stay valid for 30 days after you've returned home from deployment (if honorably discharged).
Freeway Safety Patrol (FSP)
During commuting hours, the California Freeway Safety Patrol provides free roadside assistance for drivers. The FSP can bring you a gallon of gas if you run out, jump start a dead battery, or fix a flat.
You can call 1-800-TELLCHP to find out if the FSP's available in your neck of the woods.
Green vehicle laws
If you have a qualifying hybrid, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, or another low or zero emission vehicle, you may qualify for a state-issued decal that allows you to drive in the HOV (high occupancy vehicle, aka carpool) lane even if you're driving alone.
Find out if your green car qualifies for an HOV-lane sticker here.
And if you're in the market for a clean-air car, Drive Clean (through the California Air Resources Board) offers a helpful green car buying guide.
Rebates for green cars
If you're in the market for an eco-friendly ride, you may be eligible for rebates from the state when you make your purchase. To learn more about the available rebates, check out the the savings calculator on California's Drive Clean website.
Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) for clean air
California is committed to its stringent emission standards. If you have a vehicle that fails to pass its smog test, you may be eligible for up to $500 for emissions-related repairs. And if you "retire" the smog-mobile, you might be eligible for a $1,000–$1,500 check if you meet the program's income requirements. Find out more about CAP here.
Getting your car certified in California
If you're a California resident and you purchase an out-of-state car or truck, it'll need to meet the state's strict emission standards. Any car or truck with 7,500 miles or less is considered "new" according to state standards.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), California had 7 of the top 10 cities and metropolitan areas in the U.S. for car theft rates in 2011:
- 1. Fresno, CA
- 2. Modesto, CA
- 3. Bakersfield-Delano, CA
- 6. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
- 7. Stockton, CA
- 9. Vallejo-Fairfield, CA
- 10. Visalia-Porterville, CA
Most-stolen vehicles in California
- 1994 Honda Accord
- 1998 Honda Civic
- 1991 Toyota Camry
- 1994 Acura Integra
- 2004 Chevrolet Pickup (full size)
- 2006 Ford Pickup (full size)
- 1994 Nissan Sentra
- 2010 Toyota Corolla
- 1997 Nissan Altima
- 1988 Toyota Pickup (4x2)
Young driver requirements
- Required classroom instruction hours: 30
- Required observation hours: 6
- Required driving hours: 6
- Minimum permit age: 15 years, 6 months old
- Minimum holding period: 6 months
- Minimum intermediate license age: 16 years old
- Parent/guardian practice hours: 50 daytime; 10 nighttime
- Nighttime restrictions: midnight–5 a.m.
- Passenger restrictions: no passengers under the age of 20 for first 6 months of license except immediate family
- Minimum age restrictions lifted: 18 years old
- A parent or guardian must be in the car from 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. for the first 12 months a new driver's licensed
See the California DMV's page for teen drivers for more info.
Getting a first drivers license
After you have a provisional license (learners permit) for 6 months, you can apply for your driver's license. If you're between 15½ and 17½, you'll need proof that you attended a state-approved driver training program. You'll also need to pass a road test.
Other vehicles in California
If you're registering a motorcycle in California, you'll first need a California motorcycle license (known as an m1 or an m2).
Find more info in California's official motorcycle handbook (PDF).
California car insurance
Just like this page but filled with info on your California car insurance.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles has a website for all your official licensing and registration needs.
Green vehicle info
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) keeps a list of qualifying eco-friendly vehicles for their special carpool decals.
List of California laws and fines
The Governors Highway Safety Association has compiled a quick list of driver laws and the fines associated with them.