If you’ve got a DUI conviction, a bunch of speeding tickets, or a suspended driver’s license under your belt, you’ve likely heard the term “SR-22” before. But what exactly is it? Where do you go to get it? And, most importantly, how does it affect your ability to head out on the open road?
Unfortunately, you’ll sometimes hear an SR-22 referred to as “SR-22 Insurance”. That nickname is a little misleading, though, because an SR-22 isn’t a type of insurance. Instead, it’s a document that you get from your insurance company that verifies that you have met all of the state’s car insurance requirements. Here in California, an SR-22 would be used to prove that you’ve got $15,000 in liability insurance that would cover the death or injury of one person in an accident, $30,000 in liability insurance that would cover the death or injury of more than one person in an accident, and $5,000 in liability insurance that would cover any property damage caused by an accident.
What situations are you required to have an SR-22?
Here in California, the DMV will also ask for one if you’ve been determined to be a “negligent operator” — which basically means that you’ve racked up so many violation points on your license that you’ve either been warned that you could lose your license or that your license has actually been suspended. (These points have to be racked up within a certain time period — like, for example, if you get three points within 12 months or seven points within 36 months.)
You’ll also need to get an SR-22 if you were convicted of a DUI or involved in an at-fault accident and didn’t have any insurance. The DMV will also require an SR-22 if your license has been suspended or revoked for any reason — like being involved in a hit-and-run, fleeing from the police, being convicted of reckless driving, or being convicted of drag racing.
What is the most common reason for needing an SR-22?
There are several instances where the DMV would want to see proof of your insurance coverage, but the most common is after a DUI conviction. After all, even first-time DUI offenders temporarily lose their driver’s license, and before you’re allowed to get back behind the wheel, you’ll have to prove to the DMV that you have all of the insurance coverage that’s required by law. In fact, you’ll have to provide an SR-22 before you’re even allowed to get a hardship license that allows you to drive only to work and school! Without an SR-22, you won’t get your license back. It’s that simple!
Who would you give an SR-22 to?
If it’s needed, you will need to contact your insurance company and have them file it electronically with the DMV (usually takes 7-10 days). In California, you are also allowed to bring printed proof of your SR-22 directly to the DMV for immediate processing. You can obtain proof by contacting your insurance provider.
So, once your SR-22 is filed, are you good to go?
For the most part, yes. The DMV will send you a letter confirming that they have received your SR-22. As long as you can maintain it for 36 months — meaning that your insurance doesn’t get cancelled for any reason in the meantime — you won’t have anything to worry about. However, if you lose your insurance coverage during that time frame, the DMV can suspend your license until you provide an SR-22 that verifies your new coverage.
And, yes, the DMV will find out that you’ve lost your insurance coverage! That’s because California’s insurance companies are required by law to notify the DMV anytime they cancel a policy.
What if you don’t have your own car?
If there’s a car that you drive on a regular basis, but don’t actually own — like a roommate’s or a family member’s car — you’ll need to get a Non-Owner SR-22 (also known as an “Operator’s Policy Certificate”). This would prove that the person who actually owns the car has all of the necessary insurance coverage.
Does it cost you any money to file an SR-22?
Most insurance companies will charge you a small fee (like $15 or $25) in exchange for filing the SR-22 on your behalf. If your insurance company is one of the ones that charges a fee, you won’t have any way around paying it. After all, they’re the only ones who can file the SR-22 for you!
What if your insurance company won’t issue an SR-22 for you?
Unfortunately, this situation pops up more often than you might think! In many cases, the insurance company first finds out about the accident, arrest, etc. when its policyholder calls up asking for an SR-22. If you’ve committed a violation that’s very serious — so serious that the insurance company doesn’t want to take on the risk of insuring you anymore — they can cancel your coverage on the spot. If that happens, you won’t get an SR-22 because you don’t have any coverage anymore!
You’ll have to find a company that’s willing to insure you (which is where a good agent can come in!). However, if there’s no insurance company that’s willing to write you a policy, you’ll have to turn to the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP) — a program that was created by the state legislature to provide car insurance to high-risk drivers. CAARP was designed to be a last resort, though, so don’t turn to it until you’ve exhausted every other option. It may take a little bit of extra work, but getting an SR-22 — and, thus, getting back on the open road — is well worth it!
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