Traffic school used to be an all-day affair. Offenders would have to physically attend a class, often over a weekend, in order to get that precious exoneration from a traffic ticket. Nowadays, you can attend online traffic school for many - if not most - traffic violations, and the entire experience can be over in a few short hours.
Qualifying for online traffic school
The main benefit of attending traffic school is that your moving violation will not appear on your driving record. As a result, no points are assessed against your driver's license, and your insurance company is not notified of your infraction. However, not all violations can be dismissed via traffic school.
You won't qualify for traffic school if you went to traffic school for a separate ticket in the prior 18 months. If your license was invalid at the time of the infraction, or if you were driving a commercial vehicle, you will be similarly denied. Perhaps most significantly, you can't take traffic school if your ticket was either alcohol-related or for a misdemeanor violation.
The online traffic school experience
If you're eligible for online traffic school, you'll receive a notice from your state's Department of Motor Vehicles before the appearance date on your ticket. Note that "online traffic school" may be known by alternate terms from state-to-state, and the overall procedures may vary slightly. For example, in Michigan "online traffic school" is referred to as "basic driver improvement course," and it can only be taken once to avoid points on your driving record.
To attend online traffic school, you'll have to pay the state a processing fee and then select a school from the list of approved providers in your state. Since online traffic school is a competitive industry, courses can vary dramatically in tone and appearance. However, each provider must offer the same basic information to consumers to comply with state laws.
After you register for a course, you'll need to read through a series of chapters presenting basic traffic and defensive driving information. Once you've learned the information you'll face a final exam at the end. You must successfully pass this test to earn a certificate of completion.
Duration of online traffic school
One of the many benefits of online traffic school is that you can work at your own pace. Once you start a chapter, you're typically free to stop at any time, take a break, and come back to the same spot that you left, all at your leisure. However, you generally cannot skip ahead in a course without answering questions about the reading material. Some counties - such as Los Angeles County - require online traffic school providers to install a timer on each chapter of the material so that users cannot skip ahead.
Online traffic school is generally intended to take about eight hours. However, it will usually only take you that long if you read every word of the material, thoroughly digest it, and carefully answer the questions at the end of each chapter. Many users claim that two hours or so is enough time to get through the material and still comprehend it enough to pass the final exam. Remember to take enough time on the materials so you can avoid another traffic violation.