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Traffic school on information superhighway

Cook County, Ill., joins several other areas across the USA in offering online courses in driver safety that save time and money

By Debbie Howlett
USA TODAY
TrafficSchool.com's site provides all the resources to dismiss certain California citations.

       CHICAGO - Wiping a traffic violation off your driving record used to require spending a Saturday in a classroom with several other scofflaws listening to arousing lecture on defensive driving.

      No more.
      Traffic courts across the nation are turning to online driver-safety courses to mitigate the time, expense and personnel costs of those traffic safety schools.

       Cook County, which includes Chicago, last week joined a handful of counties in California, Florida, Texas and Virginia that offer traffic school via the Internet. Nevada and Arizona are expected to put courses online soon. The computer class offers the same information and requires passing the same tests as the classroom program - but without the classroom.

       "People are much busier these days, and the Internet offers the same information in a easier-to-use format," says Judge Patrick McGann, the supervising judge in Chicago traffic court who pushed for the online classes.

       Traffic school traditionally has offered first-time offenders a chance to clean up their driving records. By taking the class and remaining ticket-free for a time, a driver can have a conviction expunged or points erased.

       Taking the class also can prevent insurance rates from rising as much as 15%.

       The content of the online version is nearly identical to the classroom version. It offers reminders about traffic laws and pointers on defensive driving. The test is not much different from a driver's license exam.

       "The key to it is, traffic school exposes people to important information that may be there but just in the back of your mind," McGann says. "It reinforces what you learned in drivers ed all those years ago and gives the information new life."

       The National Safety Council, which helped Chicago develop its program, has been teaching driver-safety classes to industrial clients - those with fleets of vehicles - by video and online for the past several years. California first started online traffic school two years ago, and the other states joined in the past few months.

       Neil Boot of the safety council cautions that the classroom has advantages: An instructor can explain confusing concepts immediately, and students can learn from one another. Nevertheless, he expects the online idea to snowball as more drivers hear about it.

       "At some point, it'll catch on, and there will be almost no more classroom teaching. he says.

       Among the dozen or so private online suppliers, TrafficlO1.com has a click-on map of the nation even though California is the only state - now - that accepts such private classes. In two years, the company has had 10,000 clients at $19.95 each.

USA TODAY JULY 24, 2000

       Eric Creditor of TrafficSchool.com says people are happy to pay. ''The responses we've been receiving have been incredible," he says. "People like the interactivity. It's not sitting and staring at the walls."

       In Chicago, no one has yet completed the online certification program, which began last week, but courts are notifying people of the option, and McGann expects it soon will be swamped by some of the more than 160,000 drivers a year who take the class.

       "I have to say, it's the way I would go," he says.

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