California

Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
Headquarters Building
2415 First Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95818
(800) 777-0133 | www.dmv.ca.gov

California Highway Patrol Headquarters
601 N. Seventh St.
Sacramento, CA 95818
(916) 843-3000 | www.chp.ca.gov

California Department of Transportation (DOT)
1120 N Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 654-5266 | www.dot.ca.gov

Title Application

Certificate of ownership is issued by the DMV upon registration of vehicle.

The DMV may issue a title to a non-registered vehicle so long as the vehicle has not been driven, moved, or left standing on a highway and will not be driven or moved.

The vehicle title is valid until suspended, revoked, or canceled by the DMV or upon a transfer of interest in the vehicle.


Title Transfer of Ownership

An effective transfer requires endorsement and delivery of certificate of ownership by transferor to transferee and delivery by transferee of the certificate to the DMV, with proper transfer fee and application for transfer of registration, within 10 days of receipt by the transferee.

Transfer may also be effected when an owner, within 5 calendar days of transfer or sale, provides notice to the DMV of such transfer or sale including the name and address of the owner and the transferee, a description of the vehicle, and the mileage at the time of sale or transfer.

Prior to, or at the time of sale or transfer, the owner must provide the transferee with a valid certificate of compliance stating that the vehicle meets state air pollution control standards.


Titles for Mobile Homes

Mobile homes that are not installed on a foundation system are subject to annual registration.

Registration Application

Application for original or renewal registration for vehicles and motorcycles is made to the DMV.

Application for initial registration or transfer of registration must be accompanied with a valid certificate of compliance with state air pollution control measures.

Registration card (or facsimile) issued upon registration must be carried with the vehicle and must be presented upon demand to any peace officer.

DMV may suspend, cancel, or revoke registration of a vehicle when notified by an insurance company that coverage has been canceled and when sufficient notice to insured has been given by the insurance company. DMV must give the owner at least 45 days’ notice of intent to suspend, cancel, or revoke registration.

DMV will not accept application for registration if the vehicle is not in the state unless the DMV is satisfied, at the time all documents and fees are submitted, that the vehicle will be registered to a resident of California.

DMV must refuse original, renewal, or transfer of registration if the application contains a false or fraudulent statement, fees have not been paid, the vehicle has failed emissions standards, evidence of financial responsibility has not been provided, or applicable use tax has not been paid.

DMV must refuse renewal registration for delinquent parking violations or failure to pay a lawfully imposed fine, penalty, or bail.

There is no period of grace for late registrations.

DMV will waive all registration renewal late payment penalties on a vehicle which is registered to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Reserve or National Guard who is called to active service or active duty out of the state.


Registration for Non-Residents

A non-resident vehicle must be registered in California if the vehicle is based in California or primarily used in California; a vehicle is considered to be primarily used in California if it is operated or located in the state for a greater amount of time than it is located or operated in any other jurisdiction.

A non-resident vehicle may be operated in California without registering the vehicle in California provided that the vehicle is registered in another jurisdiction.

A non-resident vehicle becomes subject to registration 20 days after gainful employment is accepted or residency is established, at which time application for registration must be made.


Registration Type

Application for renewal registration must be accompanied by evidence of compliance with California financial responsibility laws–unless electronically reported to the DMV by insurer.

Non-resident military personnel or spouses may operate their vehicles in California with their valid home state license plates or until the plates issued by the foreign state where they were last stationed expire. They may renew the vehicle registration in their home state before the end of the registration period or register the vehicle in California.

Application for renewal may not be made more than 60 days prior to expiration of current registration and must be made not later than midnight on the day of expiration.

Registration expires at midnight on the last day shown on the registration card.

A vehicle with expired registration may be operated on highways so long as timely application for renewal registration has been filed and the old registration remains on/with the vehicle.

Two tabs issued by the DMV must be displayed on the rear license plate, 1 indicating the year of expiration and the other indicating the month of expiration, except vehicles over 10,000 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) rating that must display tabs on the front license plate.

Trailer coaches must be registered annually, and upon sale or transfer of a trailer, the permanent identification plate remains with the trailer.


Emissions Inspection

Smog inspections are required for all vehicles except motorcycles or those vehicles manufactured prior to the 1976 model year and diesel powered vehicles manufactured prior to the 1996 model year that have a gross vehicle weight over 8,500 lbs. Vehicles registered in areas subject to the biennial smog certification program are required to submit evidence of a smog certification every other renewal period.

Vehicles that are 6 model years old or less are exempt from the biennial smog requirements for registration renewal. Evidence of a current smog certification must be provided by the seller except when transfer occurs between a spouse, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild.

Smog certifications are good for 90 days from the date of inspection. The inspection is not required on a transfer if a biennial smog certification was submitted to DMV within 90 days prior to the vehicle transfer date.

Smog inspections are required in the following counties: Alameda, Butte, Colusa, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Madera, Marin, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Benito, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Ventura, Yolo, and Yuba.

The counties of El Dorado, Placer, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Sonoma require smog certifications within certain zip codes only.

Visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles for more information on California’s Smog Inspection Program.


Safety Inspection

No periodic statewide safety inspection requirement. Officers of the California Highway Patrol that believe a vehicle is being operated in an unsafe condition as to endanger any person may require the driver of the vehicle to stop and submit to an inspection of the vehicle.


Title and Registration Fees

AUTOMOBILE

Title Fee: $18.00

Registration Fee: $46.00*

MOTORCYCLE

Title Fee: $18.00

Registration Fee: $46.00*

DUPLICATES

Plate Fee: $19.00

Registration Fee: $18.00

Driver’s License Fee: $25.00

Title Fee: $18.00

Special Plates: $10.00-$90.00 depending on type

* Plus additional fees of based on the type of vehicle, license plate type, and the owner’s county of residence and driving record.

Plate Disbursement

The DMV issues 2 reflectorized license plates per motor vehicle registered, except for motorcycles, and 1 license plate for all other vehicles (trailers, semitrailers, etc.) required to be registered.

When 2 plates are issued, 1 must be displayed on the front, the other on the rear; when only 1 is issued it must be displayed on the rear of the vehicle.

The color scheme for license plates is blue on white, yellow on black or blue, and blue on white.

Special plates are issued for historic vehicles, current or retired members of the Legislature, street rods, diplomats, disabled persons, members of the media, qualifying tax exempt organizations, various current and retired public employees, and special organizations.

License plates must be illuminated so as to be visible from a distance of 50 feet.

Special license plates or placards for disabled drivers are available upon application with medical certificate to DMV.

Transfer of Plates

Transfer of specialized plates to another vehicle is permitted provided proper transfer fees are included.

Regular plates remain with vehicle upon transfer or sale.

Driver's License Examination

Written exam includes knowledge of motor vehicle laws, English language proficiency, and traffic signs and signals recognition.

Roadside test is mandatory but may be waived if the applicant submits a license held by another jurisdiction and the DMV is able to verify there are no holds or impediments on the license.

Roadside examination officers may refuse to administer the exam if applicant is unable to provide proof of financial responsibility.

Applicants for a provisional license who fail the written exam must wait 1 week before re-taking the exam; those who fail the driving exam must wait 2 weeks before re-taking.

Hearing and vision tests are also administered; visual acuity may not be 20/200 or worse when wearing corrective lenses.

Application for Class A or B license shall also include a report of medical examination of an applicant given not more than 2 years prior to the date of the application.


Graduated Driver's Licensing

California has a system of graduated licensing for novice drivers.

At age 15 1/2, individuals are eligible for a state issued learner’s permit. During this stage, individuals may only drive when supervised by a parent, guardian, or licensed driver at least 25 years old.

  • Individuals 15 1/2 to 17 1/2 years of age must be simultaneously enrolled in or have passed a driver education course to be eligible for a learner’s permit.
  • Drivers must hold the permit for at least 6 months and accumulate at least 50 hours (10 at night) of parental/guardian certified driving experience. Individuals must also complete 6 hours of professional driver training.

At age 16, drivers are eligible for an intermediate license.

  • During the first year of the intermediate license stage individuals may not drive from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., and individuals may not transport any passengers under 20 unless they are supervised by a driver at least 25 years old (secondarily enforced).

At age 17, drivers are eligible for an unrestricted license. Exception allows a class C restricted license to enlistees in the California National Guard.

Exception allows a class C restricted license to enlistees in the California National Guard.


Driver's License Issuance/Application

Application for license must be made not more than 10 days after establishing residence.

Application must contain a legible print of the applicant’s thumb or finger and applicant’s social security number. Social security number does not appear on license.

DMV must require all applicants to provide proof of legal presence in the U.S., including presence in the U.S. when authorized under federal law pursuant to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.

Prior to issuing or renewing a license, the DMV must check the applicant’s record for traffic violations, accidents, failure to appear in court, or reports indicating incapacity to drive.

All licenses must bear an engraved picture or photograph of the licensee.

License is issued with a magnetic strip containing driver information.

A non-commercial Class B license or endorsement must be obtained in order to operate a motor home of over 40 feet in length. Persons licensed to drive motor homes must submit medical information verifying minimal health requirements upon initial license application and every 2 years thereafter.

License applicants that do not take driver education must wait until age 18 for license.

They are not required to go through the intermediate license stage.


Driver's License Renewal

All original licenses expire on the 5th birthday of the applicant following the date of the application for license and are renewable for successive 5-year periods.

License renewal may be done by mail if licensee is not probationary and the licensee’s records for the 2 years preceding renewal show no violation of specified traffic laws, a point count of not more than 1, no refusal to submit to a chemical test, and no suspension of the license. No more than 2 sequential mail renewals are permitted.

At age 70, mail renewal is prohibited.

Spouse and/or dependents of military personnel may apply for a renewal of their license by calling DMV or requesting a no-fee 1-year extension by writing to the DMV.

Licenses of out-of-state active military personnel are valid beyond their normal expiration date. Active military personnel with expired licenses must carry a DL 236 card with their licenses. Extended licenses are good for 30 days after return to California.


Types of Driver's Licenses

Class A: Any combination of vehicles, if any vehicle being towed has a GVW rating of more than 10,000 lbs.; any vehicle towing more than 1 vehicle; any trailer bus; any vehicle under Class B or Class C.

Class B: Any single vehicle with a GVW rating of more than 26,000 lbs.; any single vehicle with 3 or more axles, except any single 3-axle vehicle weighing less than 6,000 lbs.; any bus except a trailer bus; any farm labor vehicle; any 3 or more axle vehicle or vehicle with a GVW rating of more 26,000 lbs. towing another vehicle with a GVW rating of 10,000 lbs. or less; any motor home over 40 feet in length; any vehicle covered under Class C.

Class C: Any 2-axle vehicle with a GVW rating of 26,000 lbs. or less, including when such vehicle is towing a trailer with a GVW rating of 10,000 lbs. or less; any 3-axle vehicle weighing 6,000 lbs. or less; any 2-axle vehicle weighing 4,000 lbs. or more unladen when towing a trailer not exceeding 10,000 lbs. GVW rating; any motor home of 40 feet in length or less; any 5th wheel trailer under 10,000 lbs. if not for hire or under 15,000 lbs. with endorsement; or vehicle towing another vehicle with a GVW rating of 10,000 lbs. or less.

Class M1: Any 2-wheel motorcycle or motor-driven cycle; Class M1 endorsements may be included on Class A, B, or C licenses upon completion of the exam.

Class M2: Any motorized bicycle or moped; Class M2 endorsements may be included on Class A, B, or C licenses upon completion of the exam.

DMV may accept a certificate of competence in lieu of the driving exam for Class A or B applications so long as applicant has first qualified for a Class C license, and for Class M1 applications, if approved by law enforcement. A certificate of satisfactory completion of a novice motorcyclist training program may be submitted in lieu of driving test for Class M1 or M2 applications.

Distracted Driving

It is illegal to use a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle unless the cell phone is being used in hands-free mode. Persons under age 18 may not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device of any kind, including but not limited to a broadband personal communication device, a 2-way messaging device, pager, or laptop computer. All drivers are prohibited from using a wireless communication device to write, send, or read a text-based communication while driving. School bus drivers are not permitted to use cell phones.


Emergency Radio/Cellular

The emergency telephone number is *911.

The citizen band radio channel 9 is also monitored for emergency calls.

Interference with emergency communications over a citizens band radio frequency is a crime.


Headsets

Wearing headsets or earplugs in both ears is not permitted while driving or operating a bicycle, unless designed to aid hearing or specifically designed to attenuate injurious noise levels.


Impaired Driving

All 50 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating beverages, with the illegal per se limit set at 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (.08 BAC). All 50 states and the District of Columbia set the legal drinking age at 21.

Every state’s chemical test law has ‘‘an implied consent’’ provision providing that any person operating a motor vehicle on a public highway, who is suspected of driving while intoxicated, consents to a chemical test to determine if he or she is inebriated. Failure to submit or pass such a test may cause the driver’s license to be suspended or revoked regardless of any court action finding the person innocent of the charge.

The most comprehensive resource on U.S. impaired driving laws is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Digest of Impaired Driving and Selected Beverage Control Laws.  NHTSA’s Digest is updated annually.

Statewide, California requires the use of ignition interlocks for repeat and high BAC (.15 BAC or greater) offenders only. California has a pilot program in 4 counties that requires the use of ignition interlocks for all impaired driving offenders.


Move Over Law

State law requires drivers to slow down and vacate the lane closest to a stationary emergency response vehicle flashing emergency lights if safe to do so. This includes tow trucks and Caltrans vehicles if displaying flashing amber warning lights.


Seat Belts

Seats belts are required for the driver and all passengers age 16 and older.

Violation of the seat belt law is a standard offense.

Riding in the cargo area of a pickup truck is not permitted; some exceptions apply.


Child Passenger Safety

Children under age 8 and under 57” must be properly secured in a child restraint system.  All other children age 8 to 16 or over 57″ must be secured in a properly fitted seat belt. Effective January 1, 2017, children under age 2, and under 40 lbs. or under 40”, must be properly secured in a rear-facing child restraint system.

Children under age 8 must be restrained in a child passenger restraint system in the rear seat.

California law specifically requires children to be properly restrained, meaning the lap belt is low on the hips, touching the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt is crossing the center of the chest.

Children in rear-facing car seats may not ride in front if there is an active passenger air bag.

Violation of the child passenger safety law is a standard offense.


Railroad Crossing

Buses carrying passengers, motortrucks transporting employees, school buses, and vehicles carrying flammable materials, farm labor vehicles carrying passengers, commercial motor vehicles carrying chlorine, commercial motor vehicles requiring markings or placards according to federal regulations, cargo tank motor vehicles transporting a commodity that at time of loading had a temperature above its flashpoint, and cargo tankers whether loaded or empty must stop less than 50 feet but more than 15 feet from the nearest rail before proceeding, unless otherwise directed by a traffic officer or traffic control device.

All other vehicles need only stop when directed to do so by traffic signal or traffic officer.


School Buses

Vehicles must stop upon meeting, from either direction, a school bus that is stopped for loading or unloading children that displays flashing red light signals and a stop signal arm, unless the school bus is on the opposite roadway of a divided highway.

Bumper Height

Modification of original vehicle bumper height is permitted.  Maximum frame height: 23 inches for passenger vehicles.


Headlight Use

Headlights are required to be on during darkness, when wipers are in continuous use, or when visibility is less than 1000 feet.


Hazard Light Use

Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard.


Tire Chains

Tire chain usage is permitted for hazardous weather or other related incidents only, but may not damage the highway surface.


Studded Tires

Studded tires are permitted November 1 to April 30 and if retracted, May 1 to October 31.


Glass/Window Tinting

Window tinting is permitted only for the side windows to the rear of the driver; rear windows may be tinted but only if the vehicle has outside mirrors on both sides that provide 200 feet of visibility; the uppermost portion of the windshield may also be tinted.


Telematics

It is unlawful to drive a motor vehicle equipped with a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, or any other similar means of usually displaying a television broadcast if the receiver is located in the vehicle at any point forward of the back of the driver’s seat. GPS navigation systems that are mountable on the windshield or the dashboard are permitted, as are systems designed to prevent the driver from viewing them. There is also an exemption for video event recorders that have the capability of monitoring driver performance, if mounted in specific locations.


Radar Detectors

Radar detectors are permitted for passenger vehicles but prohibited for use by commercial vehicles.


Windshield Stickers

Stickers are permitted if stickers are a maximum 7-inch square, placed in the lower left corner of the windshield farthest removed from the driver, or a maximum 5-inch square placed in the lower corner of the windshield nearest the driver.


Other Equipment Rules

Any motor vehicle with 3 or more wheels, or any trailer or semi-trailer must be equipped with mudguards if the body of the vehicle does not provide adequate protection against spray or splash of water or mud to the rear of the vehicle; trailers and semitrailers weighing less than 1,500 lbs. or vehicles made before January 1, 1971, and weighing less than 1,500 lbs. are not required to have mudguards.

Motorcycle Equipment

After 1973, motorcycles must be equipped with lamp-type turn signal systems.

Headlamp modulators are permitted but may not be used during darkness.

After 1978, motorcycles must be equipped with at least 1 and not more than 2 head-lamps that turn on automatically when the engine is started and remain lighted while the engine is running.

Motorcycles must have at least 1 mirror located so as to give the driver a view of at least 200 feet to the rear of the vehicle.

Prohibits a seat position too high for a motorcyclist’s feet to reach the ground while driving.

All riders and passengers of motorcycles and mopeds must wear a safety helmet.


Motorcycle Licenses

Motorcycles may be operated by holders of instruction permits who are at least 15 years and 6 months old and have completed both an approved driver education course and a driver training course, or by holders of instruction permits who are at least 17 years and 6 months old. Motorcycles may not be operated by either instruction permit holder after dark or on freeways and may not carry passengers. Class M1 or M2 licenses shall not be issued to persons under 21 unless they provide evidence of completion of an approved motorcycle safety training program.


Motorcycle Noise Limits

A noise limit of 92 decibels applies to any motorcycle manufactured before 1970.

A noise limit of 88 decibels applies to motorcycles manufactured after 1969 and before 1973; 86 decibels applies to motorcycles manufactured after 1972 and before 1975; 83 decibels applies to motorcycles manufactured after 1974 and before 1986; 80 decibels applies to motorcycles manufactured after 1985.

Motorcycles registered in the state that are manufactured on or after 2013 or have an aftermarket exhaust system manufactured on or after 2013 must have the federal EPA noise emission label affixed to it in order to be operated, used, or parked in the state.


Mopeds & Other

Class M2 license is not required for mopeds or motorized bicycles that cannot reach speeds over 20 mph

Trailer Dimensions

Total length: 65 feet (up to 75 feet in certain circumstances); trailer length: 28 feet 6 inches; motor home length: 40 feet (38 feet for a single-axle fifth wheel travel trailer; 40 feet for 2- or more axle fifth wheel travel trailer); width: 102 inches (excluding safety equipment and RV appurtenances up to 6 inches); height: 13 feet 6 inches (14 feet on designated roads).


Trailer Brakes

Every trailer and semitrailer manufactured after 1940 with a GVW of 6,000 lbs. or more and operated at a speed of 20 mph or more must be equipped with brakes; trailers and semitrailers built after 1966 and with a GVW of 3,000 lbs. or more must have brakes on at least 2 wheels; every trailer or semitrailer built after 1982 and equipped with air brakes must be equipped with brakes on all wheels.

Every trailer coach or camp trailer with a GVW of 1,500 lbs. or more must be equipped with brakes on at least 2 wheels.


Trailer Hitch/Signals

Fifth wheel mechanisms and adapters must be equipped with a manual release locking device.


Trailer Lighting

The combination of vehicles towing a trailer coach or camp trailer must be equipped with a lamp-type turn signal system.

Trailers and semitrailers 80 or more inches in width and manufactured after January 1, 1969, must be equipped with a lamp-type turn signal system.

Any vehicle 80 or more inches in width must contain at least 1 amber clearance lamp on each side and at least 1 red clearance lamp on each side, as well as at least 2 amber and 2 red side-marker lamps on each side, and must carry at least 3 red emergency reflectors.

Every vehicle at the end of a combination of 2 vehicles must have at least 2 tail lights; trailers manufactured after July 23, 1973 and less than 30 inches wide may be equipped with 1 tail lamp.


Trailer Mirrors

A motor vehicle towing a vehicle or trailer must be equipped with mirrors on both the left and right side which provide a view of at least 200 feet of the highway.


Trailer Speed Limits

Maximum speed for any vehicle towing another vehicle is 55 mph.


Trailer Towing

When towing a vehicle or trailer motorists must drive in the right most lane or in a lane specially marked for slower vehicles. If no lanes are marked and there are four lanes or more in the same direction, motorists may only drive in either of the two lanes closest to the right edge of the road.


Trailer Other Provisions

Riding in a trailer is permitted if the trailer has an unobstructed exit capable of being opened from the inside and outside.

Accident Reporting

Crashes are required to be reported in cases of death or injury or when property damage exceeds $750.00 (effective January 1, 2017, $1,000). Reports must be filed within 10 days.


Bail Bonds

N/A


Liability Laws

Financial responsibility is required of every driver and owner of a motor vehicle at all times. Low cost auto policies are available in every county of the state for qualified low income persons.  The cost differs depending on the county.

Every driver and every owner of a motor vehicle must carry evidence of financial responsibility in their motor vehicle at all times and be ready to present such evidence at the demand of a peace officer; failure to comply carries a fine between $100 and $200, plus additional assessment penalties, for the 1st infraction and a fine between $200 and $500, plus additional assessment penalties, for any subsequent infraction within 3 years of the 1st.

Minimum liability insurance coverage must be at least $15,000 for bodily injury or death of each person as a result of any 1 accident and $30,000 for bodily or injury or death of all persons as a result of any 1 accident and at least $5,000 for damage to property as a result of any 1 accident.

State has non-resident service of process law. Guest may sue driver.


Weigh Stations

Every driver of a commercial vehicle shall stop and submit the vehicle to an inspection of the size, weight, equipment, and smoke emissions of the vehicle at any location where members of the California Highway Patrol are conducting tests and inspections of commercial vehicles and when signs are displayed requiring the stop.


Bicycles

Operators and passengers under 18 of bicycles, non-motorized scooters, skateboards, and in-line skates must wear helmets.

Drivers passing a bicycle must pass with a space of 3 feet between the motor vehicle and the bicycle.


Other

Vehicles engaged in the shipment of agricultural commodities must stop for inspection when entering the state.

California is not party to the Non-Resident Violator Compact.