I got a fracking ticket! It actually happened on December 21st on my way to do volunteer consulting work for the Tampa Child Abuse Council. According to the officer, I was doing 50 mph in a 35 mph zone (I was coming down a bridge on North Boulevard over the Hillsborough River and he was parked illegally on a one-way road to clock me). I drive that road every day to and from school and during rush hour everyone speeds. I just happened to be on the road during a time other than rush hour and I think that’s why I got ticketed. Arghh! He said he’d be nice and drop it to 45 mph. (Ahem, nice would have been a warning!)
Anyway, whether or not I deserve the ticket, Florida has an interesting policy in place. You can either: (1) pay the ticket, eat the points against your license (too many and you lose it), and see your insurance go up; (2) fight it in court; or (3) take a defensive driving course and avoid the points against your license and having your insurance go up. When I first heard about option 3, I thought, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea.” Now, I’m not so sure.
There are some limitations. You can’t have a commercial license. If you have a commercial license, your SOL on this one. You also can only do that once every 12 months and a total of 5 times during your lifetime. Since I don’t have a commercial license and haven’t had a ticket in over 10 years, I qualified. So, I decided I’d go this route.
But, of course, we left for Utah for two weeks right after I got the ticket, so I put it off until we got back. You have 30 days from the date of the ticket to inform the Clerk of Courts what you’re going to do. Once we got back, I started looking into this and found out that you have to sign an affidavit if you want to take the defensive driving course. That seemed annoyingly cumbersome; I was going to have to fill out an affidavit just to take the driving course? Turns out, one is automatically created for you on the Clerk’s website if you know where to look (hint: here). The ticket doesn’t tell you that, nor does the Clerk’s website nor their rather uninformative phone message. But I eventually figured it out. So, I printed out the affidavit, signed it, and sent it with a check to the Clerk’s Office. Theaddress was also not provided on the ticket; here it is:
Clerk of Circuit Courts
419 Pierce St.
Tampa, FL 33602
Now for the class… We put our mail on hold while we were gone. In the resulting stack I found six advertisements from various companies advertising their defensive driving courses. It turns out that the defensive driving courses are all run by private companies that are approved by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The price of the course varies from about $25.00 to $40.00. Each of the companies has a selling point: cheapest, longest in business, etc. Two caught my eye as they claimed to be “funny” or “humorous” courses. Oh, and the course can be done entirely online, though they set a timer so you have to spend 4 hours on the fracking course.
I tried one of the cheaper ones first, but their website hung when I tried to register, so I went with www.funnyinflorida.com. The account set up was fine, then I started the course (Monday). The timer at the bottom is pre-set for each section and you have to wait for it to count down to zero before you can move on (which means I did a lot of multi-tasking while waiting for it to count down to zero). The course, while full of information, didn’t really include any information I didn’t already know (e.g., a red octagon is the shape of a stop sign; drinking and driving is bad, etc.). It’s probably not a bad idea to refresh yourself with this information every so often, but I didn’t really learn anything new. I just spent four hours skimming the information, answering the questions, and then taking the test to avoid points and an insurance increase.
Oh, and I know the question everyone is wondering: Was it actually funny? The answer: No. After every few paragraphs of text they would just insert a joke, including sometimes inappropriate jokes about drinking and driving or hitting pedestrians, on the very pages where those things were strongly condemned. Hilarious! 😐
And while the price isn’t that steep (they all advertise $8.00 or so on their flyers with an “*” leading to disclaimers), the actual price includes various fees, liking printing up a certificate and a mandatory state fee. At the end, they also try to upsell you by offering to email your certificate directly to the Clerk or fax it to you or various other things, each option costing another $10.00 to $20.00.
So, I’m torn about this. I think I’m benefiting from a program that prevents points from going on my record and keeping my insurance company from raising my rates. But this is highly commercialized and seems like it is just a money making scheme for these companies. If the State of Florida made this driving course “in-house,” not only could they more closely screen the content (removing the inappropriate, undermining jokes), but they could make more money. And since pretty much every state is having budget crises, that seems like a no-brainer.
What do you think? Is this a worthwhile service that should be provided be third-party, for-profit corporations or should it be handled in-house? And should it even be an option?