The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Texas Defensive Driving Course
We know. You were late for work/not aware it was a school zone/just sure it was going to be yellow a little longer. You were also just sure that there were no policemen around to see you do it. Unfortunately, there was, and now you’ve got a ticket.
If this was, in fact, the first and only time you’ve ever made this mistake, and there was a cop around to witness the deed, we are truly sorry. However, if you’re like the rest of us, you’re probably relieved traffic officers aren’t any more ubiquitous because, if they were, you’d have a lot more tickets.
It’s not that most drivers are bad drivers. Studies have shown that the average driver makes 2½ mistakes every mile he or she drives. The law of averages would dictate that some of these mistakes are ticketable, and the law of, well, counting things, dictates that 2½ mistakes per mile is (let’s see… 22 miles to work X two times a day X five days a week X 52 weeks a year…uhhhh, carry the one…) a LOT of mistakes.
Those mistakes don’t go unnoticed. Traffic officers pulled over a lot of drivers last year, over two million, in fact. Graciously, (or you could say, surprisingly) only one in three of these stops resulted in a driver receiving a citation. Then again, one in three of 2.25 million still adds up to over 750,000 tickets written last year.
Enough with the Stats! I Only Care about One Ticket—Mine—and How to Make It Go Away
Hey, we feel you. That’s why we wrote this guide that we have so humbly titled “The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Defensive Driving Class.” But before we got into the choosing part, we want to 1) assure you that you are not alone and 2) ensure that you have the kind of ticket that makes you eligible to choose one.
Not all tickets qualify for dismissal with defensive driving. (If yours doesn’t, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid taking a class, but more on that later). There is a basic set of guidelines concerning moving violations and their eligibility for defensive driving dismissal:
- The citation must be for a moving violation – This means that if your citation is for a registration, inspection, parking or similar violation, you’ll just have to pay it.
- A ticket for excessive speed cannot be dismissed – In most jurisdictions, “excessive” is defined as 95 mph or above or 25 mph over the posted speed limit.
- Citations written for “serious traffic violations” cannot be dismissed – Things like reckless driving
- Citations written for passing a school bus cannot be dismissed – Passing when lights were flashing, or children were present
- Citations written in work zones cannot be dismissed – Nobody speeds through your office, right?
- Drivers holding a CDL cannot dismiss a traffic ticket – Even in their personal vehicles.
- Drivers can only dismiss tickets with a driving safety class once every 12 months – Usually. More on that later.
These guidelines are used universally by courts across the state, but some (like “excessive speed” and “serious traffic violation”) leave a little room for interpretation. If your citation falls into one of these gray areas, contact the court on which your citation was written and ask for clarification.
To Put It Another Way, Here’s a Pretty Chart
Here’s a quick and dirty picture of the options available to you if you have received a citation.
500 Words and an Infographic In. Can We Get to the Choosing Already?
Even if your ticket clearly qualifies you as eligible for dismissal, you still have to receive permission from the court first. Courses started prior to court authorization will not be accepted for ticket dismissal.
Depending on the municipality, this authorization can be obtained either in person, by mail or online. No matter how you get it, it will involve money and paperwork for them to give it. Once the court has said you are good to go, you are finally free to explore…
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Texas Defensive Driving Course
About time, am I right?
At this point, you’ll be relieved to know that I’m not going to beat you to death with the history of defensive driving in Texas or even with my extensive personal history with it, both as a student and as an instructor. That being said, let’s hit on a few defensive driving high points that will hopefully clear up any questions you may have before you start the decision-making process.
What every Texan calls “defensive driving” is referred to by the state as a DSC, or driver
safety course. The state allows approved providers to offer their courses using one of two delivery methods— “traditional” (in a classroom) or ADM (alternative delivery method). These days, ADM refers almost exclusively to online courses. Back in the day, when Blockbuster Video was a thing, heading there to rent a DVD or VCR home version of defensive driving was also a thing.
While the state imposes many stringent rules and guidelines on defensive driving providers, only three of these really affect you as a potential student, namely:
- How much the course should cost
- How long the course must be
- What the course must cover
Tired of reading the guide?
Check out the list of approved online defensive driving courses now.
How Will These Things Help Me Choose?
If you have so much as typed the seven letters “d-e-f-e-n-s-i” into a search engine, you have already been bombarded with pitches and promises from an overwhelming number of potential places where you can take defensive driving. Knowing what state law says about the three items listed above can save you a lot of time. For instance, state law requires that…
- A defensive driving course must cost a minimum of $25
- A lot of defensive driving providers claim to have the cheapest course. Don’t waste your time clicking from site to site trying to verify that claim. Everyone’s cheapest course is $25. Charging any less would be breaking the law.
- A defensive driving course must be a minimum of six hours in length
- These six hours include instruction, testing, and breaks, but it’s still six hours. Just like “cheapest,” you don’t have to verify “shortest,” either. Every provider’s course is the “shortest,” provided they want to remain state-approved.
- A defensive driving course must cover the same detailed list of topics
Let’s unpack that last one for a bit.
Over the years, either for research, to dismiss a ticket of my own, or out of sheer morbid curiosity, I have taken many of the courses you’ll soon be choosing from. Many sites will lure you with promises of ease and entertainment, some with the word “comedy” baked right into their names. With a state-mandated curriculum, I guess my point is this: if the material is limited to things like the color of stop signs, reminding people to always buckle up and to never drink and drive, can one course really be that much funnier than another?
Besides, comedy is pretty subjective. Things that might elicit a belly laugh out of one person may not cause another to crack even the smallest smile. If Mexican luchadors make you giggle, there’s a course out there that’s got them. If you prefer cartoon depictions of celebrities telling you (in voices that almost sound like who they almost look like) that yellow lights mean slow down, the internet can serve up that one, too. Heck, if you like the snarky, self-important tone of this Guide, there’s a greater than zero chance you could find a course or two written by its author. Just sayin’…
Wait. Huh? What can a candy bar possibly have to do with defensive driving?
Oh, it does, you’ll see.
Snickers is an American candy bar made by the Mars Corporation. From grocers to gas stations and from liquor stores to vending machines in church basements, there are very few places that sell anything where you can’t also buy a Snickers. At the end of the day, the Mars Corporation doesn’t care where you bought it, only that you didn’t opt for a Baby Ruth instead.
Are we getting back to defensive driving anytime soon?
Yes. Now. And thanks for interrupting.
I told you that tale of American confectionary to tell you this. As of this writing, there are 50 state-approved online defensive driving courses offered in Texas. “But how can that be?” you ask, “I’ve seen the search results, and there must be hundreds!” Yes, there are hundreds of sites selling defensive driving, but they are all selling the same 50 courses.
The moral of the story? You could hypothetically narrow your choices to three sites, wringing your hands and questioning yourself over which one really is the cheapest/shortest/funniest when, in reality, they’re all selling you the exact same course.
The moral of the moral of the story? Maybe the best choice you can make is to just pull the trigger and put your ticket out of its misery. Unless, of course, you’re uncomfortable with that particular turn of phrase, in which case I meant to say, “Pull the trigger on your starter pistol and jump into the race for your defensive driving certificate.”
You’re Still Here? I Mean, I’ve Got More Stuff, but… Well, Here Goes
We’ll wrap up with, as the kids (and by kids, I mean young people who are currently about three years into college and who would never say anymore) say, a little defensive driving “411”. We’ll do this next section as a series of questions and answers that are, at minimum, tangentially related to the quest for the perfect defensive driving course. If you don’t see your question here, please go ask it of someone who can answer it because if your question doesn’t appear here, there is an extremely high statistical probability that the answer you are seeking won’t either.
Why didn’t you talk about classroom defensive driving very much?
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that the vast majority of people who are shopping for a traditional classroom course are shopping for it in the Yellow Pages, not on the internet. I understand entirely that I am painting with a very broad brush here, and I apologize (and take my hat off) to those of you using a modern method in your quest to discover something so decidedly old-school.
That’s not to say that old-school defensive driving can’t be delightful. In the right environment, taking defensive driving live and in person, while surrounded by other living, breathing humans can be a blast. I taught defensive driving in a classroom for years and loved every minute of it, and I don’t think I was the only one in the room who felt that way. The sad second reason that I chose not to spend much time on the topic is that driving schools offering classroom courses are danged hard to find, and, if you do find one, you can only hope and pray that they offer a class time that will fit into your schedule.
I guess I just thought it would be cruel to tease you with the greatness of something you could probably never have anyway.
Does six hours really mean six hours?
Yes, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.
The first thing to know is that the state-mandated six hours include an equally mandated hour of breaks. The state understands that the brain can only absorb as much as the backside can endure. There is also a minimum of 30 minutes built into the course for the completion of quizzes and/or tests over the course material. This leaves roughly 4½ hours for instruction.
If you are taking the course online, a minimum of 90 minutes of video must be shown during those 4½ instructional hours. In the classroom where I taught, that 4½ hours was filled with delightful anecdotes and games of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, and we all laughed and laughed. You should have been there, it was great. Oh no, I’ve done it again. That school no longer exists, so you’ll never know. Sorry I mentioned it.
What if I don’t want “the cheapest course?” Is it okay to spend more?
While it might seem counterintuitive, the answer to that question is yes.
If you are taking an online course, up to three hours of it can be delivered in the form of text. The state uses an average reading rate of 180 words per minute to calculate how many words have to fill that time. There are a lot of minutes in three hours and, at 180 words each, that’s a lot of words.
Some companies offer audio upgrades where a narrator reads the text to you. Others offer upgrades to 100% video courses where, outside of test questions, there’s no required reading at all.
Depending on your love of reading and your ability to learn and remember while doing so, an audio or video upgrade may well be worth it.
If you are a fast reader, I hope this next little nugget won’t be too soul-crushing. Each unit of an online course is required by law to have a built-in timer. This means that you can’t finish in less than the required time, even if you are a speed reader.
I would also like to take the opportunity to say that there is a situation where you never want to upgrade, but where many people find that they must.
When the court grants a driver permission to dismiss a ticket with defensive driving, the stipulation is that they complete the course and return the paperwork within 90 days. By current law, completion certificates cannot be electronically transmitted but must be physically delivered to the student. Defensive driving companies are more than happy when students wait until day 89 to complete their courses. There’s big money in expedited shipping.
If you are well into your 90 days, at this point I would invite you again to stop reading this nonsense and get working on a course!
Do I have to be dismissing a ticket to take defensive driving?
Absolutely not, and, now that you’ve brought it up, I feel like I’ve buried the lead. There are a lot of reasons why taking a defensive driving course can be good for you. After driving day after day and mile after mile, it’s amazing how many bad habits a driver can pick up without even noticing. After taking a driver safety class, many students are grateful to have received reminders and refreshers that they believe will make them better (and safer) drivers.
If such an intangible and philosophical benefit doesn’t float your boat, how about cash money? Most auto insurance companies have some form of “safe driver” program where customers can enjoy discounted premiums for completing a defensive driving course. This benefit is extended whether the student is completing the course for ticket dismissal or not.
A Texas defensive driving certificate is divided into two parts: one for the court and one for your insurance company. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve spoken with who, in the rush to get their tickets dismissed, have totally neglected that second certificate. While their insurance rates will not go up since they kept the ticket off of their driving records, they cheated themselves out of money they could have saved on reduced premiums. These discounts not only would have paid for their course but, in many cases, would have covered their court costs, too, with money left over.
Putting money in pockets and creating safer, more competent drivers. Good job, defensive driving.
If You’re Still Here…
Thanks for joining me, especially those who hung with me through that esoteric, freeform, free-ranging collection of randomness that rounded out this little treatise. If you made it all the way to where you are reading this, you’re a trooper!
We hope you found some helpful information here that will serve to save you some time and some of your hard-earned money. You can save even more time by checking out this list of TDLR-approved online defensive driving courses. While we hope you never get another ticket, we also hope that this won’t be the last time that you take defensive driving. Safe driver discounts can be renewed every three years, so, mark your calendar, and we’ll see you then.