Black 'N' Whyte

Doing traffic school without doing it

Tim Whyte · April 27, 1997

So I got a speeding ticket a couple of months back. Deserved it, too.

I was late. I'm not a morning person -- in fact, perky "morning people," with the possible exception of Katie Couric, make me physically ill and prone to violent behavior.

Getting anywhere before 8 a.m. is a stretch for me. I was supposed to speak during career day at the school where my sister teaches, and I was hustling out Soledad, marveling at the early hours these students keep.

The local gendarmes, they keep early hours, too. I got caught. Red-handed. No fighting it. Nothing to do but pay my fine and go to traffic school.

Ah, traffic school. Goodness, how things have changed.

You can go to "comedy traffic school" now, and some of those outfits will even give you free passes to an L.A. comedy club upon "graduation" from the eight-hour course.

But I did that a couple of years ago, so I was looking for a new kind of traffic school experience. I was in luck because, since the last time I attended traffic school, the system has come up with a new way for you to experience attending traffic school.

That is, NOT attending traffic school.

You folks who haven't done the traffic school thing in a while aren't going to believe this, but you can do traffic school as a home-study course now.

No giving up a Saturday. No having to face a room full of strangers and say, "Hi. My name is Tolula, and I'm a speeder."

No gory films. No "Red Asphalt." No "Decade of Highway Death."

No diagramming traffic dilemmas on a chalkboard and being called upon to decide whether it's OK to park, pass or punt in a given situation.

Nope. Just stay home. Fix a margarita. Do it at your own pace.

They give you these numbers you can call, and the home-study traffic school company sends you a packet. You're told the home study course should take you about the same amount of time to complete as the regular eight-hour traffic school would take.

And how do they make sure you do the work?

Well, there's a test. An open-book test.

As the theory goes -- although I'm convinced this is all done with a wink and a nudge -- you're supposed to spend a total of eight hours reading this traffic safety pamphlet, then taking the test. You mail the test in to the home-study traffic school company, they score it and then send it back in to the court, indicating you have completed an accredited traffic school course.

No muss, no fuss.

The little home-study booklet has some useful info in it. But it also includes some priceless well-duh gems like, "don't do drugs and drive." Some of the 25 exam questions are challenging, while others are just common sense. All in all, it's a halfway decent refresher course on the rules of the road.

So. Did I spend eight hours doing it?

I'm on an honesty kick here, so no, I didn't spend eight hours on it.

It was a sunny, slightly breezy afternoon. I put on my sunglasses, sat on the balcony and put my feet up on the railing. Erin took Luc and the dogs for a walk. I went over the questions and used the booklet to look up the answers I didn't know.

When Erin, Luc and the dogs got back, I was done.

I'm not bragging. I'm just telling you, if you get a ticket and you're eligible for traffic school and you want to be done with the whole process in, say, the amount of time it takes two Pomeranians to do their business in the park, then home-study traffic school is for you.

And, of course, if you have the good fortune of working for a newspaper, you can write a column about it, thus rendering the traffic school fee, the moving violation fine and the cost of margarita mix tax-deductible, unreimbursed employee expenses. Keep your receipts.

Yeah. That's the ticket.

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Tim Whyte is the magaging editor of The Signal. His commentary appears on Sundays.
© 1997, THE SIGNAL -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


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