Hey, Leadfoot: Traffic School Is Just A Click Away!
I went to traffic school naked.
Well, not really, but the point is I could have: Florida now has online traffic schools so you can correct your bad driving habits and duck points on your license without leaving the comfort of your home and computer monitor.
About 5,000 people have signed up since they opened for business four months ago. I became one of them after I ended up with a speeding ticket early one Sunday morning, courtesy of an alert state trooper and an unexpected 55-mph speed zone in Jacksonville. (OK, I have a heavy foot, but I swear I didn't see the sign.)
These days, your traffic ticket is somebody else's marketing opportunity: almost immediately, my mailbox started filling up with cards from traffic schools eager to take my fee and help make me a better driver, including one called the Improv that says it hires comedians, presumably to explore the zanier side of road rage.
Finally, a yellow card -- ``You can take traffic school online, from the comfort of your home . . .''
Bingo. A winner. I have never been to traffic school, but I can't say I've heard rave reviews about it. In comparison to spending a half day in a motel conference room somewhere, an online course seemed a blessing.
Signing up was a piece of cake. There's an 800 number, and a woman named Denise answered promptly and efficiently ran through the relevant information. She wrote down my choice of a user name and password and then asked 10 personal and somewhat goofy questions -- ``What's your favorite color? Favorite movie? Have you ever ridden on a train?'' -- that are dropped in throughout the course to make sure you are actually the same deviant driver who got the ticket, or at least the same one who signed up for the course.
They tell you the course will take four hours. ``You can log on and off,'' Denise said. ``You don't have to sit there for four hours all at once.''
Sure, I thought. Four hours! Right. My plan, of course, was to log on, skim through the reading, zip through the test and get on with my weekend.
Not so fast, leadfoot.
The school makes an honest effort to ensure you swallow your traffic school medicine. After you log on, you're given seven sections with a pile of reading in each: standard stuff about why you should always wear your seat belt, and not drink and drive, or speed, or drive with bald tires, or get into your car angry and drive like a maniac (not that that's much of an issue here in South Florida.)
The time you spend on each page is logged, and you can't take the practice quiz and advance to the next section until you've spent the required time, 23 to 55 minutes. (I tried.) If you try to move on before your time is up, you'll be told how much time you've spent, and get a reminder to go back and study some more.
WAIT SOME MORE
Or at least, wait some more. The timer doesn't mean they're checking to make sure your eyeballs stay glued to the screen -- at least not all the time. I did dutifully read all the material, honest, but that didn't take me anywhere near the amount of required time.
In my case, the school didn't seem to mind that I occasionally played computer hooky and left the traffic school window open while I skipped off to play Free Cell or get a sandwich. At one point I opened another browser window and shopped for airline tickets without any problems.
Robert W. Proechel, who licenses the online traffic schools along with some traditional ones, says that was just a lucky break. The school sometimes pops in one of the personal questions in the middle of a section, just to make sure you're paying attention, Proechel said.
``If you don't answer it, guess what, it knocks you off,'' Proechel said.
To get the traffic school certificate, you must pass a test. It's open book -- they give you the links to all seven sections while you're taking the final -- and you get three chances to pass. All the questions are multiple choice, or true-false. Not surprisingly, Proechel says no one has flunked so far.
On the other hand, it would be tricky to pass without some familiarity with the material. And, as Proechel points out, it's at least more rigorous than the regular version of traffic school, where there's no test and everybody more or less dozes through it.
``You've got to read and comprehend to get to the end,'' said Proechel, who says he spent seven months coaxing the state to sign off on the online course. ``There were 3.8 million moving violations last year. Who we're after is not the ones that have gone to school but the ones that don't go.''
You have to get 32 out of 40 to pass. I got 37, and two of the wrong ones were obvious true-false questions that I carelessly misread (partly because I was preoccupied fending off inquiries from my 8-year-old son about when I was going to be off the computer).
The certificate came in the mail a few days later. And, I admit, reading all those dire statistics and stern warnings did make me a more cautious and less confrontational driver, at least for two weeks or so. Now if only they could force it on those people who weave in and out of bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-95.
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