If you have recently received a citation, you may already be planning to take defensive driving to make it go away. Before you jump online and sign up for traffic school, make sure you don’t harm your chances by getting the cart before the horse.
Most tickets are marked with an “Appearance Date” and it is not to be confused with the “Court Date.” The appearance date is the one by which you must contact the court acknowledging that you have received a citation. It is at this point that you can enter a plea and/or request defensive driving. If the court determines that you have enrolled in defensive driving before you have contacted them, they will likely not accept your defensive driving certificate of completion.
On the other hand, the “court date” is the one given to you by the court, not the friendly police officer. The court date is when your defensive driving certificate (and any other court required documentation) is due. This date is usually set 90 days from your appearance date and it’s one you DEFINITELY don’t want to miss!
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VIDEO: Do You Take Defensive Driving Before Your Court Date?
So Will I Be Paying for the Ticket AND Defensive Driving?
You will be giving some money to the court, but it’s not technically for a ticket.
The court will assess a fee when they give permission to take defensive driving. This fee is generally less than the face value of the fine and will keep the citation from appearing on your driving record. No matter the court fee, it is a small price to pay. A recent study by Nerdwallet found that insurance premiums increase by an average of 25% after a speeding ticket.
Insurance savings are not the only benefits of taking a defensive driving course. Beyond ticket dismissal and insurance savings, defensive driving students may also enjoy better employment possibilities or an enhancement of their driving skills. A defensive driving course taken online also offers—
- State Compliance, and
- Quicker Options for Receiving Your Certificate
How Do I Get Permission to Take Defensive Driving?
The instructions for contacting your specific court will be printed on your ticket. The citation will also reflect a date by which you must contact the court. Be very sure not to miss that date! If you do, your choices about what to do about the ticket will be made for you, and there may be a warrant involved.
The procedure for requesting is fairly consistent from court to court. Generally speaking, you will need to prepare the following to present to the court:
- Your driver’s license
- Your citation
- Proof of Insurance
- Fee – dependent on county, court, or infraction.
- Any court required forms and affidavits
Depending on the court, this process may be handled by phone, electronically, or in person. Your ticket should make it clear what options are available to you.
To receive permission, you will enter a plea of “nolo contendere.” This is Latin for “no contest,” which is legalese for “yeah, I did it, but I’m not admitting guilt.” In turn, the court will offer a lighter punishment—a reduced fine and no ticket on your driving record.
Which is Better: Defensive Driving or Paying the Ticket?
If you’ve received a ticket, you may be wondering the best way to deal with it. Let’s take a look at the decision you will most likely be faced with.
Your most convenient alternative would be to pay the ticket. A little expensive to be sure, but it’s quick, easy, and can probably be handled online or over the phone. The only problem with this approach is that a ticket is a gift that keeps on giving or, in reality, taking.
As we mentioned earlier, a ticket can raise your insurance premiums 25% or more. Over the three years the ticket will remain on your record this level of increase can wind up costing you an additional $1000 dollars or more.
On the other hand, defensive driving is going to take a little more time and effort for you to fulfill. You’ll have to go through the steps of getting permission, finding a course, and completing it. Is the hassle worth it?
Once you have received permission to take defensive driving, there will be a fee assessed by the court. This fee is generally less than the fine associated with the citation. Even if you factor in the cost of the driver safety course, you’ll probably still be ahead. Couple that with no increase in your insurance premiums and now you’re WAY ahead! Even if the defensive driving process takes you a total of 10 hours to complete, you could be making up to $100 dollars per hour for your time.
Can My Ticket be Dismissed with Defensive Driving?
Defensive driving is offered for the dismissal of most minor traffic offenses. These offenses include things like minor speeding, illegal lane changes, and following too closely. Tickets that cannot be dismissed with a trip to traffic school include:
- Speeding 25 mph above the posted limit
- Speeding over 95 mph
- Passing a school bus
- A violation in a construction zone with workers present
- Failure to wear a seatbelt
- No insurance
You may also be disqualified from taking defensive driving if:
- You are currently taking Texas traffic school or have done so in the last 12 months.
- You hold a Commercial Driver License (CDL).
- You must have a Texas driver license and appropriate auto insurance.
It should be noted here that the decision of whether you can take defensive driving or not ultimately comes down to the court, and they have some discretion in these matters. Even if your citation or situation falls into one of the areas listed above, it’s not going to hurt to ask for the traffic school option anyway. Maybe you’ll catch the judge in a giving mood and, after all, what’s the worst thing the court could say, no?
Beating Your Defensive Driving Court Date
Once you have received permission to take defensive driving, it’s time to start looking for a course. Even if 90 days feels like a million years away, get on it now. There’s a couple of reasons for this.
First, the human tendency to procrastinate may cause you to space taking the course entirely. If that were to happen, you could not only be faced with paying the ticket and additional penalties, but a possible warrant for your arrest.
Second, depending on your chosen method for completing the course, waiting until the last moment may cost you more money or even make it impossible to complete.
If an in-person class is your preferred method for getting it done, putting it off could make it especially difficult to complete. Classroom courses are offered less and less frequently these days and finding one last-minute that aligns with your schedule may prove impossible.
Alternately, burning the midnight oil to complete an online course can be done, but it will come at a cost. Waiting until the eleventh hour will likely result in you paying extra for expedited delivery or an electronic completion certificate.
When it’s all said and done, the best way to take your medicine is to, well, take it. The faster you get started, the faster you’ll have it over with, so get going.
John FabelI have a long and checkered history with defensive driving. I took my first "court invited" course at age 15 and realized immediately that there had to be a better way. Since that first experience, I have gone on to teach defensive driving classroom courses and to author four internet courses in 2 states. After nearly 25 years in the industry, I can help you find a course that will be the best fit for you.
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