California DMV Point System: The Ultimate Guide

If you’ve ever gotten a traffic ticket in California, you’ve likely encountered the DMV point system. But if the points on your license left you with questions, you’re not alone. What do the points mean? How do they affect you? How many do you have? And how do you get rid of them?

Read on for answers to these common questions, plus everything else you need to know about the California DMV point system.

What Is a DMV Point System?

A DMV point system means that drivers who are convicted of violating traffic laws receive points for each ticket. This is a way for state DMVs to track drivers’ records and create standard procedures for dealing with repeat offenders or particularly dangerous drivers.

What Is the DMV Point System in California?

What Is the DMV Point System in California

The DMV point system in California is called the Negligent Operator Treatment System, or NOTS. 

How Does NOTS Work?

NOTS is based on points that are assigned to individual drivers’ California driver’s licenses. The points correspond with a series of warnings and consequences that can be issued by the DMV. NOTS affects drivers who are 18 and over, as well as younger “provisional” drivers if they violate provisional probation or suspension.

How Do You Get Negligent Operator Points?

You get points on your license when you are convicted of violating a traffic law that carries points. You can be convicted by pleading guilty or by being found guilty by a traffic court.

A good example is speeding, which carries one point in California (except in cases of excess speed or reckless driving, which are two-point violations). If you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer who issues you a speeding ticket, you have three options: You can pay your fine, which is the same as pleading guilty to the ticket, and then one point will be added to your license.

Or, you can fight the ticket in court; if you’re found not guilty, the ticket will be dismissed, but if you’re found guilty, you’ll receive the point on your license.

Your third option is to plead guilty, pay your fine, and request traffic school. When you complete traffic school, your point will be masked.

How Many Points Do You Get for Different Violations?

Depending on the violation, you can get anywhere from zero to three points. You can also accumulate points for being convicted of multiple different violations.

Zero-Point Violations

Zero-Point Violations

Some traffic tickets are worth zero points. These are mostly non-moving violations, or traffic tickets you receive unrelated to your driving behavior.

Some examples include:

  • Parking tickets
  • Fix-it tickets related to your vehicle’s equipment (for example, a broken light or too-dark tinted windows)
  • Paperwork violations related to insurance or registration

One-Point Violations

One-Point Violations

Most minor traffic violations, or infractions, are one-point violations.

Some examples include:

  • Speeding
  • Running a red light
  • Making an unsafe lane change
  • Getting in an accident where you are found to be at fault

Additionally, the California DMV will add a point to your license if they find out that you received a ticket in another state. They may also add a point if they learn of a crash you were in out-of-state, depending on whether you were at fault.

It is illegal to drive in California while holding a cell phone. Except in emergencies, cell phone use while driving must be entirely hands-free. If you receive a cell phone ticket, your first one won’t add any points to your license. However, if you receive a second cell phone ticket within 36 months (or three years) of a prior cell phone ticket, it then becomes a one-point violation.

Two-Point Violations

Two-Point Violations

Some more serious traffic violations, including certain misdemeanors, result in two points on your license.

Some examples include:

Commercial Vehicle Points

If you’re convicted of a violation while driving a vehicle that requires a Class A or Class B commercial vehicle license, the point value is multiplied by 1.5. That means that one-point violations become worth 1.5, and two-point violations become worth three points.

Do You Still Get Points If You Pay Your Fine?

In a word, yes. When you’re convicted of a traffic violation, you are required to pay your fine (also called bail) and any associated fees. You can pay the fine by the deadline stated on the ticket, which is the same as pleading guilty. Or, if you fight the ticket and are found guilty in traffic court, you must pay the fine and fees then.

This has no bearing on the points associated with the ticket. They will be put on your license once you are convicted.

Consequences for Points on Your License

California’s Negligent Operator Treatment System was established to create consequences for drivers who accumulate points by breaking traffic laws. Here are some of the different ways points on your license can affect you.

DMV Actions in Response to Points

California law requires the DMV to take certain actions against drivers who accumulate points. Here’s what to expect:

ActionGiven when you accumulate…
Level 1: Warning letter2 points within 12 months
4 points within 24 months
6 points within 36 months
Level 2: Notice of intent to suspend
Note: Before the suspension happens, you can defend yourself by requesting a hearing. Typically, this needs to be done within two weeks of receiving the notice.
3 points within 12 months
5 points within 24 months
7 points within 36 months
You may also get this notice if a major conviction is added to your driving record
Level 3: Order of probation/suspension
Note: Probation lasts for one year, and suspension of your driver’s license lasts for six months. The action is effective 34 days from when the order is mailed to you.
4 points within 12 months
6 points within 24 months
8 points within 36 months
Level 4: Violation of NOTS probationAny violation or crash that occurs while your license is suspended
Any one- or two-point conviction during your probation period
Any failure to appear or failure to pay fines and fees during your probation period
Any driver under the age of 18 who violates their provisional probation because of an at-fault collision, failure to appear, failure to pay, or other offense

How Point Totals Affect Your License

If you accumulate enough points to reach Level 2 or higher, the DMV will start the process of suspending your driver’s license.

You can request a Negligent Operator DMV hearing to defend yourself, and in some cases, the state will offer a restricted license rather than a suspension. But this is decided on a case-by-case basis and will depend heavily on your driving record and personal circumstances. We’ll go over NOTS hearings in more detail further down.

How Point Totals Affect Your Insurance Rates

Traffic tickets are already expensive when you only consider the fines and fees, which can easily total over $500 for a common, one-point violation like speeding or rolling through a stop sign.

But the financial effects of a ticket don’t end there. Your insurance company may find out about point on your license and raise your insurance rates. The amount that your premiums increase can vary depending on your insurance provider, the type of violation you were convicted of, how many points you have, and your overall driving record. 

However, analyses have shown that one point on your license can raise your insurance premiums by 50 percent, while two points can cause them to double.

How Long Do Points Stay on Your License?

Most one-point violations and crashes where you are found to be at fault will stay on your license for at least three years

However, more serious violations like DUIs or reckless driving convictions remain on your license for at least 10 years.

How to Remove Points From Your License

How to Remove Points From Your License

If you’ve been convicted of a traffic violation and received points on your license, you already know how stressful it can be. You’re likely looking for ways to minimize the impact of your points. Unfortunately, you don’t have too many options — the California DMV assigns points for a reason, and doesn’t typically remove them.

Here are your options for minimizing the impact of points on your license.

Don’t Get Traffic Tickets

This option may seem obvious, but the best way to avoid points on your license is to not get traffic tickets.

Stay up-to-date on the rules of the road and changes to California’s vehicle code. You might even consider taking a defensive driving course to brush up on your knowledge and make sure you’re following all traffic laws and driving as safely as possible.

If you do get a ticket, you may be able to fight it. If you can gather enough evidence to get the ticket dismissed in traffic court, you won’t receive any points on your license.

Go to Traffic School

When you’re convicted of a traffic violation, you can ask the judge to grant you permission to attend traffic school. This doesn’t remove any points from your license — any points you received because of the violation will stay on your driving record. But going to traffic school allows you to mask one point, meaning insurance companies won’t be able to see it. This means that, while you’ll still have to pay fines and fees for your ticket, you may be able to avoid an increase in your insurance rates.

Best Online Traffic School is fully licensed by the California DMV and available in all counties. What’s even better is that our course is fully online, so you can complete it at your own pace from any internet-connected device — some students finish and pass the course in as little as three hours! We also have one of the most affordable online traffic schools in California, and you don’t have to pay until you pass, so your success is guaranteed.

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Request a NOTS Hearing

If you’ve accumulated enough points on your license for the DMV to take action (like move toward suspending your driving privileges), you can request a NOTS hearing to defend yourself.

At a NOTS hearing, the DMV will consider:

  • Your overall driving record
  • If you have any pending traffic violations or collisions not shown on your record
  • Your driving history
  • Whether any of your violations involved alcohol
  • Any personal circumstances that may have impacted your driving actions
  • Physical and mental conditions that may affect your driving abilities

Some conditions that most commonly cause the DMV to adjust its actions are:

  • Plans for improvement. If you can show specific actions you plan to take to improve your driving, the DMV may lessen the consequences against you.
  • Hardship. If you are the sole provider for your family and alternative transportation isn’t available for you, the DMV may consider a restricted license rather than suspending your driving privileges.
  • Physical or mental condition. If your hearing uncovers any physical or mental conditions that impact your ability to drive safely, the DMV may suspend or revoke your driving privileges indefinitely.

Here are the possible outcomes of a DMV NOTS hearing:

SustainThe original DMV action remains in effect.
Probation and modified suspension periodThe action goes into effect, but is modified.
Probation, suspension and/or restrictionThe action goes into effect, but is modified.
ProbationThe driver’s license is not suspended, but probation will be used to monitor their driving record.
Set aside (lack of evidence)The DMV action doesn’t have enough evidence to support it and is suspended or delayed.
Set aside (non-receipt of NOTS order)The DMV action is suspended or delayed because the driver didn’t receive the notice.
No action (driver does not appear)The original DMV action remains in effect and the driver waives their right to a hearing.
End actionThe original DMV action is canceled.

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