New traffic school book joins videos and Internet as alternatives to traditional driver improvement courses
by RICK ALLEN
OK, so you just got a ticket. Now what?
First realize you're not alone. Millions of citations for traffic violations are handed out in Florida every year.
You want numbers? In 2005, the last year the state has numbers for, more than 4.7 million violations overall were ticketed statewide, 2.6 million for moving infractions; in Marion County the same year 48,748 citations were handed out, of that 28,357 for moving violations.
By far the largest number were for speeding. In the state, 1.2 million-plus in that category alone; again, in Marion nearly 12,000.
So, yeah, you've got lots of company.
Now it's possible you also could get points on your driving record.
We were told in Driver's Ed this, generally, is not a good thing; too many points in too short a period can lead to the state taking away your privilege to drive. And that could mean new quality time with a bicycle or SunTran system - which while not necessarily be a bad thing, it's certainly not as convenient as your own wheels.
But wait. What the state gives, it also offers to take away; ticketed drivers can get back into good graces through a program known as Basic Driver Improvement, or BDI.
As the DHSMV's Web site succinctly puts it: "If you receive a ticket for a non-criminal moving violation, and you do not hold a commercial driver license, you may elect to attend a basic driver improvement course in lieu of points on your driving record."
The four-hour courses also can "help you better maneuver on the road, be smart on the road," says Frank Penela, a spokesman for the DHSMV.
In many ways, the course - however it is taken - is a refresher for "that book we all had to read at one time," he adds.
The state OKs different ways for drivers to take these BDIs. The traditional way has been in a classroom where an instructor shows movies, provides endless statistics and lectures.
This method begat the Improv Comedy Traffic Schools; learning through laughs used to be offered in Marion County, "but we lost our instructor there," says chief comedian and instructor Todd Vittum. "We do plan to get one back there later this year, perhaps in the third quarter."
For the rest of the state, however, Vittum maintains this alternative means of driver improvement boasts "an ongoing effectiveness.
"Negative punishment turns into positive reinforcement," he says. "Students pay more attention; they never know if they're going to get a fact, a statistic or a joke."
Adds Lawrence Gentilucci, director of operations for the California-based Traffic Safety Consultants that offers a humor video/DVD BDI course: "If the students don't retain the information you provide them, you've failed.
"Our experience has shown that using comedy as a learning tool in traffic safety education is more effective in getting and keeping students' attention and enabling them to absorb and retain the information," he adds.
But don't get the idea this will be all lighthearted; all the gory details of what happens to drivers who make mistakes is all there, just not so gruesomely presented.
Other methods developed in recent years include video/DVD courses and through the Internet. Once the program is approved by the state, the only requirement is the student must devote four hours to it.
There are 13 companies authorized by Florida to provide the various BDI courses. A complete list is on the DHSMV Web site; locally a list of five are in yellow page directories under the "Driving Instruction" heading.
The newest method joining the list of BDI delivery is an old method - reading a book.
Approved in March, the "Florida Traffic School Booklet" is from the aforementioned Traffic Safety Consultants. The book is jam-packed with all the statistics and facts of a traditional course — from impact of DUI to distractions to road rage — lightened some by a sprinkling of jokes from the humor genre.
"It's another option for those who don't want to attend a class or sit in front of a TV or computer screen," says Gentilucci. "And it's good for someone on the road." The reading can be done anywhere, anytime.
The book is divided into five chapters. Each chapter has a time associated with it. The sum is the required four hours. Chestnuts fall from trees. The reader must spend the minimum time for each chapter, logging in with the company before beginning and at completion. Speed reading, thus, is discouraged.
To ensure the reading is actually done, non sequiturs like "Chestnuts fall from trees" called "validation inserts" are dropped into paragraphs throughout. Upon completion of each chapter, the reader must correctly answer questions about them.
Additionally, Gentilucci notes, "the book is a great reference once you're done with the class."
Now, whether any of this has any effect on your insurance premiums is not clear. The state Web site says, "You may choose to attend a basic driver improvement course to receive insurance discounts."
The DHSMV then adds, "This discount is solely at the discretion of your insurance company."
But a spokesman for Allstate Insurance, one of Florida's larger auto insurers, indicates completion of the course may not make a difference.
"Allstate does not increase auto premiums based on traffic tickets," says Adam Shores, senior communications consultant, in an e-mail.
"In our preferred auto line of business, where the majority of our customers are located, we do offer customers who have maintained a clean driving record for three years a premium discount.
"In our indemnity, or higher-risk, accounts, a customer's rates may be impacted if they have had a series of violations within a three-year period, depending on the severity of the violation."
So ultimately, for some a BDI might not pay off. But at least you might have had a few good laughs.
Rick Allen can be reached at