car accident*An OnlineAutoInsurance.com survey of all 50 state laws outlining penalties for driving without auto insurance shows that California’s law has a relatively low fine for doing so, but the fact that California police can tow and store an uncovered car could turn uninsured driving into a costly affair. OnlineAutoInsurance.com is based in the Inland Empire.

In California, the fine for driving without coverage ranges from $100 to $200 for a first offense and from $200 to $500 for second and subsequent offenses. That’s relatively low compared with most states, which most frequently set their minimum/maximum fines for a first offense at somewhere between $500 and $550.

Also, California Vehicle Code Section 16029 does not impose a license or registration suspension period on uninsured drivers. In some states, like New Jersey, drivers can have their license suspended for a whole year for being caught on the road without coverage. A slight majority of states (29) require some license-suspension period for this.

On the other hand, California is one in only a handful of states with a financial responsibility law that explicitly says uninsured cars can be towed and stored at the owner’s expense. That could make things a little rougher for owners of uninsured vehicles.

According to Online Auto Insurance’s ranking of uninsured-motorist penalties, at least three other states’ laws explicitly state that uninsured cars can be towed on a first offense.

“When drivers see that $100 to $200 fine for driving without coverage and then look at their premium bill, which is likely to be substantially more expensive, they might consider going uninsured,” says Online Auto Insurance manager Cesar Diaz. “But having your car towed and stored can cost hundreds of extra dollars, not to mention the inconvenience of being without transportation during that time. And let’s not forget that you might have to pay out of pocket for any damages that you cause while driving uninsured. The better idea is just to shop around for coverage or check your eligibility for the CLCA.”

The California Low Cost Auto Insurance Program (CLCA) is designed to help low-income drivers get covered rather than go without a policy. To qualify, applicants need to meet certain income-eligibility and safety requirements. If they do qualify, they get access to legal but sub-minimum levels of coverage for between $231 and $434 a year.

The Insurance Research Council estimated that in 2009 about 15 percent of California motorists were uninsured. That was a little higher than the national average of 13.8 percent.

However, California Department of Insurance projections show that rates of uninsured motorists vary widely depending on what county you’re in. Estimates from 2004—the most recent year for which data is available—indicate that Imperial, Los Angeles and San Francisco counties had the highest rates of uninsured drivers. All three of those counties were estimated to have an uninsured rate of more than 21 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, less than 1 percent of drivers in Nevada County were said to be driving without a policy that year.

OnlineAutoInsurance.com provides visitors with informative resources about the ins and outs of auto insurance, as well as a quote-comparison generator that allows users to easily and quickly compare rates from multiple insurers.

The site recently published an exhaustive list of state penalties for driving uninsured, which can you can find here.