Last updated February 25, 2020 by Craig Fitzgerald
Traffic school can help you reinstate a suspended license and eliminate points from your driving record, reducing your car insurance bill. Rather than taking courses in person, many states allow you to take traffic school online.
To the point, here are Car Talk's recommendations:
Top Online Traffic Schools Nationwide
Choosing the Right Traffic School
First off, we're using the generic term "Traffic School" here, but your state may call it a "Defensive Driving Course." The terms are interchangeable.
The first thing to consider is whether or not your state actually accepts traffic school as a way to remediate a license suspension or an insurance surcharge. Not every state allows you to take traffic school to correct a suspension, a fine, or a surcharge.
For example, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts -- where Car Talk is headquartered -- if you lose your license, you lose your license and there's no way to get it back until the suspension period is completed. Similarly, if you're assessed a surcharge on your insurance, it'll stick around like a bad cold. Massachusetts has a friendly-sounding program called the "Safe Driver Insurance Plan" that starts each driver at a neutral 15 points. Go for a year without a surchargeable incident? Your point score lowers and your insurance rate goes down. Get a traffic ticket? Your point total goes up and so does your insurance -- for YEARS afterward.
So if you happen to be from one of the 15 states that DOES have a way of reducing those surcharges, or getting your license back after it's been suspended, consider yourself lucky.
Once you've determined that traffic school can help you get your license back or reduce your insurance cost, you've often got several choices for completing traffic school:
- Classroom: Like your original driver's education classes, this type of Traffic School requires that you show up at a predetermined location and sit in a classroom full of other offenders -- er, "students" -- and take the classes in person. The main disadvantage, of course, is that you actually need to show up there. That can present a problem if you happen to be sick one day, have responsibilities like childcare or have other life inconveniences, such as a job that requires your attendance. The plus side is that you actually get more personalized education. There's an instructor present and depending upon how engaging they are, you can actually learn something. Some states actually attempt to make Traffic School entertaining by hiring standup comics and improvisational actors to run the classes. Depending on how willing you are to listen to somebody who spends every evening in a dank comedy club in front of a faux brick wall, comedy traffic school can actually be slightly less oppressive than listening to somebody whose public speaking chops were honed by talking into the mic at the McDonald's drive-thru.
- Online: Listen, it's 2019: It's about time that we started utilizing technology to complete the requirements of a course like Traffic School. Many states will allow you to remediate a ticket or reduce an insurance surcharge by doing exactly what you're doing now: sitting on your butt in front of your computer. Online Traffic School allows you to complete a course with a lot more flexibility than courses offered in person. Have to be at work from 9 to 5? Not a problem, you can complete an online class after you get home. Have a baby that you can't leave alone in the house for hours on end? You can complete an online class during the one hour a day the baby's actually asleep. Can't get your lazy butt out of bed before 10:45 a.m.? An online traffic school was made for you. The downside of an online class is that you don't get the individualized instruction offered in a physical classroom. If you have questions or don't understand something, you can shout your questions at your laptop all you like, but you're not getting an answer.
- CD/DVD: If you happen to be trapped in 1993 and still have a DVD player, traffic schools in your state may be able to blow the dust off of a DVD that you can rent in order to complete your traffic school. These types of schools often require that you take the exam portion of the school in a physical classroom, which kind of eliminates the convenience of online traffic school, but may still offer a bit more flexibility than taking the entire class in a classroom.
How We Selected the Top Online Traffic Schools
To recap, based on our analysis we recommend:
The biggest criteria we used to select online traffic schools was honesty. There are dozens and dozens of companies online that will be more than happy to sell you something, no matter what state you happen to reside in. But they get slippery when we investigated whether or not those states actually accept traffic schools or defensive driving classes to either reinstate a suspended license or reduce insurance surcharges.
On several websites, you can select any state and be provided with a generic $30 to $40 class. That class promises to -- in one example -- "Improve your driving," but there's no language that suggests it will reduce a surcharge or help get a driver's license reinstated. When we investigated deeper into the FAQs, the answers were predictably murky. In this example, we knew that Massachusetts doesn't accept any kind of traffic school for reinstating licenses or reducing surcharges. Yet:
Q: How do I know if the [Shady Company Name] Massachusetts online defensive driving course is approved for dismissing a Massachusetts traffic ticket?
A: We recommend that you contact your Massachusetts court in order to be sure that the [Shady Company Name] Massachusetts online driver safety course is approved for dismissal of a Massachusetts traffic ticket.
Reputable companies that offer state-sanctioned traffic school or defensive driving programs are clear that the classes they offer are accepted to reduce fines or surcharges, and they offer them only for the states in which they're licensed.
All of the companies we've recommended are licensed. That's not saying much, though. The states that license these schools seem to have a pretty generous licensing program. California has a list of traffic school providers in the thousands.
Costs for these classes vary pretty significantly. Some areas cheap as $5 and they'll tout that in the name of the company, like "$2 Traffic School". Costs for the more legitimate providers are in the $20 range, depending on the state.
We visited a lot of traffic school websites with really sketchy names and even sketchier websites. We've checked all of the sites we've recommended with Google's Transparency Report.
We narrowed our recommendations to online drivers ed programs that are highly popular on the web (as evidenced by number of users) and have at least 90% positive reviews on customer feedback websites that have at least 1,000 reviews from customers of the drivers ed company, and where applicable, top ratings with the Better Business Bureau.
- Aceable: Aceable offers traffic school in California, Texas and Defensive Driving Courses in Florida, and clearly states their license numbers for each of those states on the website. Aceable has been rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau, has a 4.9 star rating on Trust Pilot.
- iDriveSafely: This is a sister company to Aceable. Our recommendation: Look for a course on Aceable and - if they don't have one in your state - they may direct you to an available course on iDriveSafely. You don't need to cross-shop the two.
- Improv Traffic School: Improv Traffic School is unique because it attempts to combine the crushing boredom of a driving class with a bit of entertainment by hiring standup comics and improv actors to take care of the instruction. It offers Traffic School including ticket dismissal Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, insurance point reduction in New York and New Jersey and service for Negligent Drivers with multiple traffic tickets in Idaho. It has a 4.7 out of 5 star rating on Shopper Approved.
Traffic School Q&A
Q: What is traffic school or defensive driving school?
Traffic school or defensive driving school is a service provided by a third party that allows a driver to either reinstate a suspended license or reduce insurance surcharges that have been assessed because of a traffic ticket or a reportable accident.
Q: Can I take a DMV-approved traffic school course online?
States that accept traffic school as a means of reinstating a suspended license or reducing a surcharge often allow drivers to take classes online. However, it's important to check our articles on those state-specific traffic schools to know for sure whether or not online traffic school is offered in those states.
Q: How much does online traffic school cost?
Costs for traffic schools vary by state and by the provider. Check our state-specific articles for more detailed information on pricing.
Q: How long does it take for online traffic school?
The length of time for traffic school depends on the state and the severity of the violation. Some states allow a four-hour traffic school for basic reinstatement or surcharge reduction, while more serious violations require an eight-hour class. Check our state specific articles to learn more about what your state requires.
Q: I reduce a speeding ticket fine with traffic school?
This varies wildly by state, so be sure to check our state-specific articles for more information
Q: Can I dismiss a ticket with traffic school?
In general, yes, but you'll want to know as much as possible about what your individual state requires before you make a decision about traffic school.
Q: Can I earn an insurance discount with a traffic school?
Most people investigating traffic schools aren't looking for an insurance discount as much as they are looking to eliminate a surcharge on their insurance. Most states have a points system that starts at the neutral level -- 15 points, for example -- and adds points for each violation or reportable accident. You can eliminate some of those points by taking traffic school in some states. See our state-specific articles to learn more.
Q: What is the difference between traffic school and defensive driving courses?
Again, this depends on the state. In most states "defensive driving courses" are generic driving classes that may improve your skills, but won't reduce points or reinstate a license. However, in Florida, "Defensive Driving Courses" will reduce your points or reinstate a license. That term is interchangeable with "Traffic School" in states like California and Texas.
Editor's note and disclaimer: CarTalk is supported by our fans, readers, and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.