I Got a Ticket, Should I Go to Traffic School?

I Got a Ticket, Should I Go to Traffic School?

Is Going to Traffic School Worth It?

Time-for-Traffic-SchoolSo you got a traffic ticket, so now comes the inevitable question:  “Should I go to traffic school?”  You know that it will likely help you avoid an insurance increase, but is it worth it?  Before we look at some of the factors that might influence your decision, it should be noted that many of the points in this article pertain to California auto insurance.  Laws and rules will vary from state so if you have any state specific question, consult your local insurance agent.  (You do have a local agent, right?  If not…  To quote Reverend Johnson in Blazing Saddles…  “Son, you’re on your own…“)

How much will my car insurance go up?

Here in California, there are actually two aspects to consider:  Violation surcharges and potential loss of your California Good Driver Discount.  Violation surcharges vary from company to company and typically only affect the vehicle assigned to the driver who got the ticket.  Most surcharges range from 5-15% depending on the company and other factors such as age of the driver.

Loss of the California Good Driver Discount can be an additional 20% on top of any violation surcharge.  You’ll lose your California Good Driver Discount if you have more than one point on your driving record within three years.  Most violations count as only one point but major violations (DUIs, reckless driving, speeding over 100mph) can count as two points by themselves.  Also, property damage accidents count as one point while accidents involving an injury claim count as two.

So it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that a ticket might cost you anywhere from 5-35% (or more), depending on your circumstances.  So going to traffic school could well be worth the time, expense and hassle.  On the other hand, it may way too much of an expense and time consuming hassle to be worth it.  How are you to know if you should go to traffic school?

Run the Numbers

From a strictly economic standpoint, it’s not hard to figure it out.  Most companies go by violation date.  They typically will add surcharge(s) and/or remove discount(s) at the first policy renewal following the violation.  Then, they will remove the ticket at the first policy renewal after the three-year anniversary of the violation.  So, if you call your insurance agent (or insurance company if you don’t have an agent), they should be able to tell you exactly what the effect will be over the three years the ticket is on your record (assuming all other factors stay the same).  Then, you factor in the cost of the traffic school class along with any additional state fees and you should be able to see how much going to traffic school vs. not going will cost (or save) you.  Once you have that figure, you can make your own determination as to whether it is worth it to spend a Saturday in traffic school.

Before you make that determination, though, there are a couple of other factors that might influence your decision to go to traffic school.

‘Insurance’ Against a 2nd Point

It is important to note that repeat violators can’t go to traffic school.  This might affect your decision in two ways.  Typically, if you have been convicted of a similar violation within 18-months, you won’t be able to go to traffic school.  Alternatively, you might go to avoid that pitfall should you get a 2nd point.  For example, if you get one ticket and pay the fine, take a small surcharge on your auto insurance and then get another similar ticket a year later, the court won’t let you go to traffic school.  So in that instance, you get hit with a larger surcharge (for your second ticket) plus you lose your California Good Driver Discount.  For that reason, some people might choose to go to traffic school on the first violation so as not to get cornered should they get that second ticket.

Little Trick to Minimize Your Auto Insurance Increase

As mentioned above, some companies go by violation date while others will look to the conviction date when determining when to add or remove a violation point.  However, even if they use violation date, they still won’t surcharge you until you have actually been convicted of the violation.  For that reason, delaying your conviction could save you money by delaying how long it takes the ticket to hit your motor vehicle record.  If you have an annual policy (one that renews every 12-months instead of 6-months), this could reduce the effect that the ticket has by one-third!

Check your policy’s renewal date, if you know you are not going to go to traffic school simply waiting until the last minute could delay your conviction date into the next policy term.  If you are not close enough to your renewal date, pleading not guilty and requesting a couple of continuances could easily push the conviction date into your next policy term.  Then you can change your plea to guilty, pay the fine and be done with it.

Additional Considerations if You Go To Traffic School

All too often, drivers don’t realize after they go to traffic school that they must follow up with the court to request dismissal of the violation (and removal of the point against their record) so they end up going to traffic school for nothing.  Be sure you follow through with the court after you go to traffic school.  Otherwise, you wasted time and money going to traffic school.

Additionally, no California law says an insurance company can’t charge you for a ticket, even if you go to traffic school.  Therefore, some companies will charge for the ticket if they see it on your driving record, even if it is listed as carrying no point.  Make sure you confirm that the ticket has been completely removed from your motor vehicle record.  It shouldn’t show up at all if completely dismissed.

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