Traffic School: How It Works

Keeping a traffic ticket from going on your record and affecting your insurance rates.

Traffic-ticket fines can be expensive, but the long-term expense of insurance-rate hikes can cost even more. Fortunately, most states allow eligible drivers to keep their driving record clean by participating in traffic school. (Sometimes, traffic school is also called “driver improvement,” “defensive driving,” or “driving safety” class.)

This article gives an overview of how traffic school works and answers some common questions that people have.  

When Is Traffic School a Good Option?

If you get a traffic ticket, you’ll have several options for dealing with it. These often include:

  • admitting guilt and paying the ticket (without doing traffic school),
  • contesting the citation, and
  • going to traffic school.

For eligible motorists, traffic school is often the best option for dealing with a traffic ticket. Traffic school has an upfront cost—which can range from $10 to several hundred dollars (see below)—but it’s usually the only surefire way of keeping the violation from increasing your insurance rates. It’s also unlikely that traffic school will significantly interfere with your work or school schedule—requesting traffic school is usually quick and easy, and most courses are outside of business hours or can be done at your convenience online (see below).

Contesting a ticket—while it gives you a shot at beating the ticket—almost always requires a significant investment of time or money.  Traffic court is usually during business hours, and fighting a ticket often requires at least two trips to court. You can hire an attorney to go to court for you, but it’ll cost money. And there’s no guarantee you’ll win your case—losing typically means you’ll have to pay the fine and the violation will go on your driving record.

If you decide to admit guilt without doing traffic school, you may save yourself some time, but you’ll typically have to pay the fine and increased insurance rates for the violation.

(To find out more about the alternatives for handling a citation, see Traffic Citations: What Are Your Options?)

What Are the Eligibility Requirements?

To do traffic school, you have to meet the eligibility requirements. Rules vary by state, but typically, motorists are limited in how frequently they can do traffic school and for which violations. For instance, many states allow drivers to do traffic school only once every 12 or 18 months. And motorists cited for more serious traffic offenses, like hit-and-run, are usually ineligible.

Also, commercial drivers typically aren’t eligible for traffic school at all.

How Does Traffic School Work?

Requesting traffic school. Procedures vary by state, but generally, you just need to notify the judge or court clerk that you want to do traffic school. In some states, you can make this request by mail or online. But in other states, you have to go to the courthouse in person to request traffic school.

Cost. Some states require motorists to pay a fee or the amount of the citation fine to participate in traffic school. And generally, traffic school participants must also pay the traffic school provider (usually a private company) to take the class. Traffic school providers typically charge between $10 and $100 for their courses. Online courses, when available, are often the cheaper option.

What does traffic school consists of? Generally, traffic school covers topics like state driving laws and driver’s safety. And depending on where you live and the circumstances of your citation, courses ordinarily range from four to eight hours. Many states allow drivers to satisfy traffic school by participating online or in a classroom setting. Online traffic school courses—though designed to take the same amount of time as their in-person counterparts—are often quicker to complete than classroom courses.

What happens once you complete traffic school? The details vary by state, but generally, completing traffic school results in the violation being dismissed or removed from the driver’s record. A violation that has been dismissed or removed ordinarily won’t affect the driver’s insurance rates.

Talk to a Traffic Attorney

Traffic school differs by state, and everyone’s situation is different. If you have questions about how things work in your state or what your best options are, get in touch with a local traffic attorney. Many traffic lawyers offer prospective clients a free consultation, and for many people, hiring a knowledgeable attorney to take care of things is well worth the expense. 

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