Editorials

Online traffic schools are a joke. Here’s why you shouldn’t have to pay one

Just when you thought things could not get any worse for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the beleaguered bureaucracy sinks even lower into disrepute.

This time, the DMV has been caught asleep at the wheel in its duty to provide oversight for the traffic schools California drivers must “attend” in order to clear speeding tickets from their official driving records.

“A few owners of online traffic schools in California have taken advantage of loose oversight by the Department of Motor Vehicles to stifle competition and boost their share of customers among the roughly 670,000 ticketed drivers who enroll in the schools every year,” according to a news story by The Sacramento Bee’s State Worker reporter Wes Venteicher.

Once upon a time, drivers had to attend actual traffic schools in classrooms to clear minor infractions from their records. Over the past two decades, the schools morphed into an online industry. In order to compete for business, these “schools” bear names like No Study Traffic School, Easy Daddy Traffic School and Five Dollar Traffic School.

Clearly, the owners of many of California’s 3,000 traffic “schools” do not pick their names in an effort to convey seriousness or competency. The ridiculous naming trend persists despite rules barring any name that “implies that the school offers inducements or premiums which derogate or distort the instruction intent of the traffic violator school program.”

Idiots Traffic School and 4 Lazy Traffic School seem in clear violation of the DMV’s solemn principles.

As it turns out, the silly names are not a coincidence. That’s because a handful of owners control the vast majority of California’s 3,000 online traffic schools.

“A recent Assembly Transportation Committee report found five owners controlled about 74 percent of the schools,” according to The Bee. “DMV records show there were fewer than 1,000 licensed schools as recently as January 2017. The number increased to about 1,400 in January 2018 and leapt to around 2,200 in January of this year. It had grown to about 3,000 by March.”

Why do online traffic scam – err, school – owners start multiple companies? Because they compete for business by “appearing on a list of randomized schools that is passed out at courthouses and maintained online.”

In other words, the government provides them with a free advertising platform and they game the system to reach more potential customers. They’re playing the traffic school lottery and want to increase their odds of winning the money in your pockets.

Thanks to lax oversight at the DMV, they’re getting away with it. An estimated 675,000 Californians a year enrolled in online driving schools from 2016 through 2018, according to The Bee.

Even the owners of the schools think the rules are enforced too loosely.

“It’s misleading the public,” Traffic Schools Online founder Steve Soldis told The Bee. “They’re unaware of who they’re doing business with.”

Clearly, the DMV should do a better job of enforcing its own rules. But since the department often seems incapable of handling the many duties already in its purview, here’s another idea: cancel traffic school altogether.

If traffic school is as big a joke as these school names suggest, why does it exist at all? What good does it do to require drivers to pay a few bucks to take a short “idiot” test designed in every way to cheat the system?

Some DMV studies even suggest drivers who attend online traffic schools are “more likely to reoffend because the consequences of violating the rules of the road are delayed,” according to a report by the Assembly Transportation Committee.

If traffic schools are not a serious intervention for small traffic infractions – and may even worsen the problems they aim to solve – the solution is clear. Let’s end the scam once and for all.

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