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Industry Standard

Online traffic school in a jam

April 26, 1999
Web posted at: 12:54 p.m. EDT (1654 GMT)

by Michiyo Yamada

Would you be less likely to choose an online traffic school if you were required to take an offline exam as well?

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(IDG) -- Anybody could have missed that stop sign, but you got caught. Now you have a traffic-school choice: eight hours in a stuffy classroom or three hours at home.

Increasingly, Californians who want moving violations taken off their records are opting for online traffic school. But a bill currently before the state assembly could force traffic violators back to earth. AB 681 would require people to take a proctored exam in addition to the work they do at home.

A staff member for Assemblyman Thomas Calderon (D-Montebello), author of AB 681, said the Department of Motor Vehicles would likely develop the exam. The bill does not specify who would monitor the test, but it would be done offline. Opponents of the bill say it would significantly decrease the convenience and attractiveness of online traffic schools.

"It's punitive to all home school courses, including online courses," says Michael Corbett, a legislative advocate representing the Association of Online Traffic Safety Educators. "Without any prior study being done on the effectiveness of home school courses, the bill would have an additional constraint on us. There's no evidence that classroom-based schools are superior [to] ours."

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Currently, the DMV has no jurisdiction over home study or online traffic schools. Local court judges in different counties authorize the programs. Upon completion of an online traffic course, a student must bring a certificate from the program to her local court, and the court advises the DMV for the dismissal of the student's traffic violation. The process takes one to three working days, according to the DMV.

Proponents of the bill say the measure would improve the quality of all traffic schools by bringing them together under the jurisdiction of the DMV, which could impose a uniform curriculum. Traditional traffic schools now pay the DMV a one-time application fee of $150 to be considered for licensing by the department. Once licensed, the school can purchase official DMV certificates of completion at $1.50 apiece.

The DMV has been reluctant to take active steps in investigating the online schools. Bill Cather, assistant director for legislation at DMV Sacramento, says that the department hasn't had the resources or the incentive to evaluate the validity of online traffic schools that don't meet the DMV's 400-minute class-time requirement. Cather also expresses concern over fraud.

Many online schools say they have developed methods against cheating. Dion McCarthy, a Los Angeles architect who recently graduated from Web Traffic School, one of the eight major online traffic schools in California, said he was asked a series of personal questions throughout the course, including his eye color, weight and docket number of his case. Internet Traffic School has an agreement with Kinko's in which the omnipresent copy store verifies students' identity on site before they can sign up.

"No one [in the online traffic-school industry] is opposed to the idea of having a unified curriculum standard," Corbett says. "But if students have to take an additional test somewhere else, it would weaken the competition between online schools and traditional schools because a convenient online school ends up being inconvenient."

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