If you’re a young driver, getting a traffic ticket can be both scary and frustrating. You may have not paid attention to your speed, become distracted, or simply forgotten the rules of the road in a certain situation. An additional hassle is having to deal with points on your driving record.
The good news is that, in most cases, you can take a defensive driving class, sometimes called driving school, to dismiss the ticket. Even better, the information you learn from the class could also help you prevent future tickets and even accidents. Here’s how you can take a defensive driving class to become a better driver and keep your record clean.
The Choice to Drive Defensively
Online traffic school is a popular option for those who receive their first ticket. The first thing you’ll want to do is ask the officer issuing the ticket or call a number on the ticket itself to find out if you are eligible to take driving school. That all depends on the severity of the ticket, but for most moving violations, defensive driving school is an option. Some courts also require you to notify them of your intention to take a class before you take it, but not all courts require prior notification.
Not only does defensive driving school help you avoid points on your driving record, but some states like Texas may even give you an insurance discount if you take a TEA/TDLR-approved online traffic school course. California also accepts online traffic school courses, and reputable online schools will also take care of the administrative side of things by notifying the DMV that you took the class and passed the final exam.
You’ll want to check with your DMV to see if other documentation is required along with your certification of completion. In Texas, for example, you need to send in your driving record with your certificate. For a small fee, most online courses will take care of that too, but an online course administrator can’t do it if you have a license that is suspended, expired, or has been replaced. You also need to be over 18 and have a Social Security number.
Looking at Points on Your Record
If you don’t take a defensive driving course, the number of points on your record varies by state. In California, a speeding ticket for someone traveling under 100 mph is only one point; above 100 mph is two points. If you have four points in a year, six points in two years, or eight points in three years, your license could be suspended or revoked.
In Texas, a moving violation puts two points on your driving record, three if a crash is involved. If you receive six or more points on your record each year, you will be fined each year you leave the six points on your record until you take a defensive driving course to reduce the points. Most driving courses will remove one violation’s worth of points for your state, unless it’s a more severe violation that could add a higher number of points than, say, the standard speeding ticket.
What You’ll Learn
Interactive online defensive driving courses teach techniques to help you avoid getting tickets or into accidents in the future. Defensive driving strategies commonly covered include:
Awareness of surroundings.
Having escape routes for difficult situations.
The 3- to 4-second following rule.
Speed and consequences of excessive speed.
Eliminating distractions is a primary emphasis in today’s defensive driving courses, says Ryan Pietzsch, a driver safety education expert with the National Safety Council.
“If you truly choose defensive driving tactics, you ensure you have proper following distance, you make sure the phone doesn’t distract you, you set yourself up for a safe arrival at your destination by planning and understanding the best routes," said Pietzsch. "Driving involves your undivided attention."
The length of a course varies by state. California requires about eight hours, Arizona four, Colorado three to six hours; these are only a few examples, but you should probably expect a minimum of four hours to cover the material in most cases.