Can I Go to Traffic School to Reduce My Ticket Penalties?

The requirements of traffic school and defensive driving courses and how they work.

Sooner or later most drivers will receive a traffic ticket. Although getting a ticket isn't the end of the world, the short- and long-term consequences of a ticket can be significant. Ticket fines alone can reach hundreds of dollars. And, traffic tickets can lead to demerit points, increased insurance costs, and more serious penalties such as license suspension when tickets add up. For eligible drivers, traffic school can be a less expensive option to avoid some or all of these penalties.

Advantages of Doing Traffic School

Going ten miles per hour over the limit on a Georgia interstate will result in a $300 fine, plus court costs. Three speeding tickets in Virginia will lead to license suspension. And speeding tickets can greatly affect insurance premiums. But in many states, all or some of these consequences can be avoided through completing traffic school.

For drivers who successfully complete a traffic school program, many states reduce or eliminate the fines, forgive demerit points, and even dismiss the charge outright.

Traffic school procedures vary somewhat by state. In some states, drivers can take traffic school following a ticket conviction (usually, the driver must admit the violation) and completion of the program will erase the conviction from the driver's record. In these states, the driver might have to pay the fine for the ticket but will avoid the demerit points that would normally result from a conviction.

In other states, traffic school works more like a diversion program. The driver opts for traffic school without having to admit the violation or the traffic court entering a conviction. With these diversion-type systems, the driver typically can avoid fines, demerit points, and the insurance rate increases associated with a conviction.

Some states also allow eligible drivers to take traffic school or a defensive driving course at any time to eliminate points or get a point credit. In other words, drivers in these states can take benefit from completing traffic school even without a pending ticket.

How Traffic School Works

"Traffic school" is the generic term for any sort of remedial course in traffic safety. But jurisdictions often use different terms for these courses such as "driver improvement," "defensive driving," or "driver's safety."

Generally, these courses are straightforward and take a day or less to complete. Many states allow drivers to choose between in-person and online courses. With some courses, especially online options, the driver will need to pass a test or a serious of tests on the material covered in the course.

Course costs—which the driver is responsible for paying—typically range from less than $50 to a few hundred dollars.

Drivers who complete traffic school will receive a certificate of completion. The traffic school provider will typically also notify the court and DMV of the driver's completion of the course.

Traffic School Eligibility

With all the possible benefits, traffic school seems like the obvious choice for most drivers who get a ticket. However, traffic school is not available for every traffic ticket. The exact eligibility requirements vary by state. But generally, traffic school is only available for minor first-offense traffic violations. For example, many states allow drivers to do traffic school only once every 12 months. And drivers are sometimes ineligible for traffic school based on the seriousness of their offense.

In some situations, drivers are not only eligible for traffic school but actually required to attend. For example, certain states require a suspended driver to complete a certified defensive driving course prior to license reinstatement.

CDL (commercial driver's license) holders aren't allowed to use traffic school to dismiss or mask a traffic ticket.

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