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Status Report, Vol. 43, No. 5 | July 1, 2008 Subscribe

Traffic violation dismissals are linked to crash risk

Drivers whose traffic violations are dismissed by courts after they have completed traffic school are more likely to be in another crash within a year than drivers whose convictions remain on their driving records, indicates a California Department of Motor Vehicles study updating previous agency research.

In California and other states, judges have the option of allowing violators to attend traffic school in exchange for having citations dismissed. No points are assessed, and the violation is deleted from the driver's public record. Points for a second violation also may be removed by attending traffic school but, this time, the dismissal goes on the driver's record.

The study compares 2 groups of California drivers who received traffic citations during 2000-01. The traffic school group consisted of drivers who received violation dismissals, and the conviction group included drivers with 1-point moving violations. Before the violations, the drivers who attended traffic school had characteristics associated with a lower crash risk than the drivers with convictions — they were slightly older, more likely to be women, and more likely to drive commercially. They also had better driving records during the previous 2 years.

Despite their lower initial crash risk, traffic school drivers had a crash rate about 5 percent higher than that of convicted drivers during the year following the citation. When the traffic school drivers' lower initial crash risk was considered, their crash rate was estimated to be about 10 percent higher than it would have been without the dismissal. The findings corroborate 3 previous California Department of Motor Vehicles reports indicating that traffic violator schools don't reduce drivers' risk of future crashes.

About 12,300 crashes in California each year occur because of the 1.2 million drivers whose citations are dismissed, the report estimates. The author estimates that annual economic losses associated with these crashes total $398 million.

With a traffic violator school dismissal, a high-risk driver is able to sidestep penalties that normally would be deterrents, including license suspensions and revocations and higher insurance premiums. "Avoiding increased insurance premiums is one of the primary reasons violators choose the [traffic violator school] option," the report notes.

Insurers, employers, and others use public driver records to flag risky motorists, but the records often don't accurately reflect all prior violations, Institute research has shown (see "Prior violations often omitted from public records," Feb. 7, 2004). This compromises the records' usefulness as predictors of future crash risk.

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