September 21, 2011
Got a traffic ticket? Thinking about just paying it and taking traffic school? Think again. In July, California Assembly Bill 2499 went into affect, changing the scene in the courtroom of who may be able to attend traffic school to keep their driving record clean. Lets start with the basics, and go into how this new law can affect you as a driver.
What is traffic school?
Traffic school is a government regulated program designed to teach people how to become safer drivers. When you get a traffic ticket, the court might make a deal with you: take a traffic school course and they’ll keep a point off of your record. The point system is a way for the DMV and insurance companies to determine how risky you are on the road. Three points in 3 years on your record could mean suspension of your driver’s license, and insurance hikes of 20% or more, not to mention unhappy letters from the DMV.
What is the new law all about?
Before AB 2499 went into effect, the judges were allowed to grant traffic school to just about anyone at their discretion. The new law prohibits judges to approve traffic school unless the driver meets specific eligibility requirements outlined in the law as follows: Only non commercial drivers who have not previously attended traffic school in the last 18 months may be allowed to attend. Once you take traffic school, you will not be granted it again if you get another ticket within 18 months. Period.
This rule goes for drivers who get more than one ticket in more than one county or courthouse. The California court system now has a more solid way of communicating with each-other on who has or hasn’t attended. You simply cannot fall through the cracks of the court anymore. Fighting it may seem more appealing now.
The term “clean driving record” no longer applies with traffic school
It used to be that when you attended traffic school, you obtained a ticket dismissal on your driving record as if it never existed. Now, a violation will still appear on your record as “confidential,” but not as a point. The only way to actually keep your record clean if you get a ticket is to try to fight it and have it completely dismissed within the court’s records.
A comparison analysis of what a ticket could cost you
Lets look at a few options you have when you get a traffic ticket and what could be the related costs in terms of traffic school:
Plead guilty, pay the fine, accept the point.
California imparts some of the highest fines associated with traffic tickets. The average speeding ticket fines in California can be anywhere from $250-$400. The all-too popular redlight cameratickets cost about $500. Then there’s the insurance rates. One insurance company said that they automatically raise rates 20% if they see two tickets within three years or for a suspension due to any unresolved tickets. That’s hundreds of dollars more per year in insurance hikes. Yikes!
Plead guilty, pay the fine, attend traffic school.
If you choose to request traffic school and are approved, you’d be looking at paying your ticket fine, paying the court’s traffic school fee (generally another $60), and then paying the actual traffic school. You’d be saving money in any future insurance hikes but you’d be looking at initially forking out close to $1,000 depending on your violation, and using up your traffic school option for the next year and a half.
Plead not guilty, fight the ticket
The California court system makes it fairly easy to contest a traffic ticket through a trial by written declaration (trial by mail). If you fight your ticket and win, not only do you save on the ticket fines, but you eliminate the need to attend traffic school therefore saving those related costs. If you fight your ticket and lose, you’re back to square one and can then resort to traffic school.
Some estimates say that over 16 million traffic tickets are given out in California every year. Many people still choose the route of paying their ticket and attending traffic school. For many, it may seem like the easiest way, but now with stricter restrictions on traffic school eligibility, and with the high ticket fines that most people simply cannot afford in today’s economy, many are re-thinking pleading guilty and actually trying to beat traffic tickets.
Sara Schoonover is Vice President of of Ticket Kick, a California company that helps drivers get red light cameratickets and other traffic tickets dismissed by helping drivers through the trial by written declaration process. The company, which formally launched in 2010 after providing similar services since 2006, is the leading company in this space and growing rapidly.
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