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How to Tell if a California Traffic School is Legit

Do a quick internet search for “California Traffic Schools” and you’ll be presented with a mind-boggling number of results. With such an overwhelming variety of schools to choose from, how do you determine which one is right for you? Furthermore, how can you be sure that the school you choose is a legitimate one? Navigating the California DMV’s extensive list of schools can be a daunting task, and if you want to take the course online instead of appearing in-person, the fact that the DMV doesn’t provide links to the schools’ websites is a big problem.

Many schools make claims to have the lowest price, or the fastest completion times, but consumers must be wary of such statements. If you enroll in a traffic school program that doesn’t meet the California DMV’s requirements, your completion record may not be accepted by the court. This, of course, would mean that you either have to enroll in another traffic school class, or risk insurance increases as the points from your traffic violation will be visible to your insurance company.

Before enrolling in a California Traffic School course, be sure to consider each of the following points.

How Long is the Course?

We’ve seen schools advertise things such as “Get your certificate in less than an hour!” and “Complete the entire course in just minutes!”, but these claims are usually too good to be true. The DMV’s standards for Traffic Violator Schools state that classroom courses must be at least 340 minutes long, and that home study and internet courses contain a minimum word count of 42,500 words in their curriculum. What this means is that while there is not a defined time requirement for online traffic school courses, there is a certain amount of instruction that must take place, the length of which will vary for different people depending on their reading and comprehension abilities. The average person reads about 200 words per minute, so the schools who state that their course is “under an hour” are either not delivering the required amount of course information, or they are vastly overestimating their customers’ reading skills. Keep an eye out for outrageous statements about the length of the class, as it could be an indication that the school is not actually licensed by the California DMV.

Is There a Final Exam?

For all California DMV-accepted online traffic schools, the answer is a resounding “yes”. In fact, California has some of the most stringent requirements for how the online traffic school final exam must be administered. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the questions on the exam will be hard, rather that the procedure and rules for taking the test will be consistent across all licensed schools. DMV school standards require that the exam contain at least 25 questions, should be “open-book” (meaning you can refer back to the course material while you’re taking the test), and that students must be given 60 minutes to finish the exam. The minimum passing score is 70%, and students who fail the exam may re-try it only one additional time. Schools boasting exam requirements that differ from those listed above, or the absence of an exam all together, should raise a red flag for the consumer.

Additionally, though it does not reflect on the legitimacy of the school, you may want to investigate the school’s individual policy regarding students who fail the final exam twice. The law states that these students may enroll in another Traffic Violator School class, but no regulations are in place regarding the pricing for a student who re-enrolls in the class. We at Puppy Traffic School have a policy that we do not charge anything to re-enroll a student who has failed the exam. It doesn’t happen very often, but if you’re concerned about what will transpire if you fail the exam, you can alleviate some of the stress by making sure you understand the school’s re-enrollment policies up front.

Is Price a Factor to Consider?

For most of us, price is always a factor. There are no regulations in California regarding the pricing of Traffic School classes, but as with most things, the axiom “you get what you pay for” most definitely applies. The DMV list is littered with “bargain basement” school listings, some of them asserting prices as low as $5.00 — what they don’t tell you is that this price oftentimes does not include all of the so-called “additional” services needed to communicate your completion record to the DMV, which is necessary in order to have your completion recognized by the court. You may be able to get access to the course for the stated price, but having them report your information so that it can be applied to your ticket might cost extra. There are also schools who automatically add fees and surcharges to their stated “low price”, so be on the lookout for this before you enter your credit card information. When you add everything up, you may not actually be saving any money by going this route.

The DMV Traffic Violator School List

We’ve already mentioned that the DMV list is less than helpful in finding a website that offers traffic school, but it can be used to verify that a particular school is indeed licensed by the DMV.

Online California Traffic Schools must display their school license number on their website. This will usually appear either on the home page or at some point during the registration process. If you can’t find the license number, it might be because they don’t have one, or it might be because they’re not following the DMV rules — either way, it could indicate potential problems for California customers. Even if they really do have a DMV License to operate as a Traffic School, it’s a good idea to avoid enrolling with a school that puts their license status in jeopardy by violating regulations.

The license number begins with the letter “E” followed by a four-digit number. Start by visiting the California DMV Occupational Licensing website, and select “internet course” as the mode of education. From here you will see a complete list of the nearly 900 traffic schools licensed by the DMV. But don’t worry, there’s no need to read every entry on the list — use your browser’s “find” function to search for the school’s unique license number. On most browsers, this can be accessed by pressing Ctrl+F (Cmd+F for Mac users).

Trust Your Instincts

With so many traffic schools to choose from, there’s absolutely no reason to pick one that seems questionable. If you get the impression that the school may not be licensed by the CA DMV, or if they’re engaging in dubious business practices, don’t take the risk. There are plenty of legitimate, licensed traffic schools out there, and though we might point out that many of them have a disappointing lack of puppies in their courses, they remain viable options to preserve your driving record after receiving a ticket.

A little bit of common sense can go a long way when selecting a Traffic School program. A professionally designed website and reasonable price are good places to start, but you’ll also want to take a look around the site for pertinent information about the course and the school’s status with the California DMV. Go with one that not only has a verifiable DMV license, but also meets the DMV requirements noted above. You don’t want to be a casualty of a non-compliant school’s licensing debacle. It’s well worth the extra few dollars to be certain that your completion will be processed correctly, and that the points from your violation will be masked on your driving record.

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