Criminal Law

What Is Traffic School?

By John McCurley, Attorney
Read about how traffic school works and when it might be a good option for dealing with a ticket.

After being cited for a traffic offense, you’ll typically have to decide between fighting the ticket and admitting fault. For drivers who choose to admit the violation, traffic school is often a good option.

(It also might be possible, though less likely, to get traffic school after contesting your ticket in court and losing.)

Most states, including California and Texas, have some form of traffic school (sometimes called a “driver improvement,” “defensive driving,” or “driving safety” course) that eligible drivers can participate in to mitigate the effects of a moving violation. Completing traffic school usually keeps insurance rates from increasing and might save the driver from a license suspension.

Traffic School Eligibility

Many states have eligibility requirements for traffic school. These typically have to do with how often a driver can do traffic school and for which offenses.

Most states allow motorists to do traffic school only every so often. For example, Texas, Arizona, and Florida motorists can participate in traffic school only once every 12 months. In other states, including California and New York, the waiting period is 18 months. And New Jersey drivers are allowed to do a defensive driving course to reduce the points on their record only once every five years.

It’s also common for states to hinge traffic school eligibility on the type of offense the driver was ticketed for. Arizona, for instance, prohibits all drivers with traffic violations involving death or serious physical injury from taking a defense driving course to get the violation dismissed. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 28-3392(C)(1).) And some states, including California and Texas, don’t allow motorists cited for hit-and-run offenses to do traffic school. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.104; Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. § art. 45.0511(p)(1).)

Drivers who are written up for a traffic offense while driving a commercial vehicle generally aren’t eligible for traffic school.

How Traffic School Works

The process for getting into traffic school varies by state. However, in many states, you have to first plead guilty or “no contest” to the traffic offense. In other states, you just need to inform the court clerk that you want to do traffic school for your citation. Some states also require you to pay the fine for the ticket if you want to traffic school.

States that have traffic school typically publish a list of state-approved class providers. Many states have the choice of doing traffic school in a classroom setting or online. Traffic school courses—which might range from four to eight hours—usually cover topics such as defensive driving techniques and state driving laws.

Benefits of Traffic School

Generally, once a motorist completes traffic school, the court dismisses the conviction or removes the violation from the motorist’s record. A traffic conviction that has been dismissed or removed ordinarily won’t affect the driver’s insurance rates.

In California, on the other hand, traffic school completion doesn’t lead to the dismissal or removal. The traffic infraction remains on the driver’s record, but the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and court keep it “confidential,” meaning there’s no public record of the conviction and insurance companies can’t find out about it.

Completing traffic school can also keep the “points” for a violation from going on your record. Most states use a point system for keeping track of traffic violations. Each type of violation is assigned a point value. For example, running a red light might be three points. Drivers who accumulate a certain number of points face license suspension. So, in some circumstances, doing traffic school can prevent the loss of your license.

Questions for an Attorney

  • How much does it cost to do traffic school?
  • Should I admit fault and do traffic school even if I’m not guilty?
  • Can I do traffic school for a red-light camera ticket?
  • Can a court force me to go to traffic school?
  • Can I do traffic school to get a DUI off my record?
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