California drivers know that keeping points off their Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) driving record is an essential part of retaining driving privileges and keeping insurance rates down. If you’re new to the California points system this guide will tell you how the points system works and what you can do to keep points off your license.
Common Traffic Tickets in California
If you get a ticket for a moving violation, it will be either an infraction or a misdemeanor. Basic violations, like running a stop sign or speeding, are infractions. A misdemeanor is more serious. Drivers are given misdemeanors for offenses like driving while intoxicated or driving without a license.
The most common reasons why California drivers get traffic tickets are:
Using a handheld device while driving
Failing to fully stop at a light or stop sign (known as a California rolling stop)
Driving the wrong way
Unsafe lane change
The last offense could be a number of things. Basically, anything that isn’t specified on it’s own and the police officer can justify as a danger to others is considered reckless driving.
How California Drivers License Points Work
When you get a ticket the fine may not be the only penalty. Many moving violations also show up on your driving record in the form of points. Insurance companies and employers are able to see your California driving record and find out if there are points, how many and what they are for.
If you pay the fine, it's the same as a plea of "guilty" or "no contest." The conviction will show up on your driving record.
You'll have 1-2 points added to your driving record depending on the violation. Typically, infractions are one point and misdemeanors add two points to your record. You can also get negligent operator points if you cause a collision. The points range from 0-3 depending on the severity of the accident among other things.
The points stay on your record for 3-7 years. Getting too many points doesn’t just look bad on your driving record. It can have serious consequences. California drivers who get four points within a 12-month time period may have their driver's licenses revoked or suspended.
Steps to Removing Points From a California Driving Record
First-time violators may be able to get the court's permission to take a driving class at a California driving school to keep the points from going on their record. This prevents insurance premiums from increasing your rates, and it could help you retain your license if you end up getting another ticket down the road. Here’s what you have to do:
Step 1. Wait for the Court Notification
If you are eligible to take a defensive driving course the court will notify you. You should be eligible if you have a valid drivers license, you weren’t driving a commercial vehicle, and it was an infraction, not a misdemeanor. You also can’t have taken a defensive driving course in the last 18 months.
Step 2. Sign Up for a California-approved Defensive Driving Course
You can take the course in a classroom or online. Our online California defensive driving course offers the quickest path to completing the required education and putting the matter behind you. But with an online course, you can also choose to go at a slower pace. It’s up to you!
Step 3. Complete the Course and Pass the Final Exam
Once you get through all the course lessons you’ll have to take the final exam. After passing the final exam the course is considered complete.
Step 4. Send the Course Completion Report to the DMV
After you’ve completed the California defensive driving course you’ll need to provide the DMV with a course completion report to show you fulfilled the requirement. Our defensive driving partners at I Drive Safely will automatically send your completion report to the California DMV for you!
California Programs That Help Drivers Get and Keep Auto Insurance
If you can't get the points off your record by attending a California defensive driving course and your insurance company drops you, AIPSO may be able to help you find a new insurance company.
"When a California driver gets dropped by their insurance company due to their driving record, we may be able to get them covered," said Bernadette Pastor, Insurance Coordinator at AIPSO. "AIPSO is the plan manager for assigned risk, so people call us if they are dropped by their insurance agency. We look for agents who are registered through us who can help with that risk level."
In California, it's illegal to drive without auto insurance. For individuals with a low income, getting the auto insurance they need could be cost-prohibitive. "Low-income individuals in California with a very good driving record and no misdemeanors or felonies who only use their vehicle for personal use (not Uber or a side gig) should apply at mylowcostauto.com, which offers a program sponsored by the California Department of Insurance. “Insurance coverage includes liability only, and isn't part of the open insurance market in California," says Pastor.
For example, a household with two people making less than $42,275 combined could qualify for low-cost auto insurance in California that meets financial responsibility laws if they have clean driving records.
Getting access to California's discounted auto insurance marketplace may be the motivation you need to complete a defensive driving course.
*This article was updated on 3/5/21.