After paying my red light ticket, the epic story described in a previous post, the San Mateo County Southern Branch Court provided me with a list of about 80 approved online schools. Which one to choose? I expected the Internet in all its collective wisdom to provide the answer with a comprehensive site of traffic school reviews including all sorts of evaluation criteria (price, time to complete, use of animations, etc) and user rankings. To my disappointment, no such site seems to exist. I was faced with scanning a large list of URLs to pick a traffic school.
The first approach was to start entering URLs in the browser and try to deduce, from the home page, whether the traffic school would be right. Here’s the list of schools approved by San Mateo County:
An ideal traffic school for me would be:
- Responsive. Pages load fast. No stupid artificial delays like I experienced many years ago when I tried an online traffic school.
- Efficient. Don’t bug me with graphics, animations, games. Show me the information and let me take the test.
- Not sneaky. Tell me how much it’s going to be and avoid hidden charges.
- Try before you buy. Let me see what the content is like before I have to commit.
The third URL I tried look good, much like a few others, the price was competitive ($19.95) but what clinched the deal for me was that I could take the whole course and pay at the end. No risk for me: try the course and stop at anytime if I get annoyed with it.
The winner had the most appealing name: Easy, Fast, Cheap, Online, Traffic school. Here’s my short review of my traffic school experience.
The school is divided into sections and each section into multiple pages. Each page is 1 to 2 pages long (you sometimes have to scroll down) and it densely packed with text. There are some graphics, but mostly in the form of small icons. No animations, games, movies, nothing. No filler either. The text is short and to the point.
After each page you’re asked 1 to 4 multiple choice questions. If you get them all right you move on to the next page. If you do not, you go back to the content to see the answer then take the same questions again. The site is very responsive and it’s not annoying at all to go back and forth in this manner.
Interestingly, the text is lightly sprinkled with made up trivia about Speed Racer, which the course keeps reminding you “will be on the final”. Did you know, for instance, that Speed Racer’s favorite food was fish tacos?
The course tries to be funny, or encouraging by giving you a one liner whenever you pass on of the multiple choice tests, saying things like “aren’t you glad you’re not listening to an amateur comedian right about now”? I wished these pages instead gave you an indication of progress, like 10 out of 39 pages complete.
When you get to the end of the course, before you take the final, you’re asked to pay for the course and pick delivery options for the certificate. The certificate will be issued and sent to you, not to the Court. It’s important to get it in time to be able to deliver it to the Court before its due date. The course presents a plethora of shipping and processing options, designed to make you spend more. It’s a bit of a nasty bait and switch, but since I took the course well in advance I could pick the suggestively named option “standard mail slower processing”, for the base price of $19.95. The page also highly recommends getting a duplicate certificate for an extra $5.95, another seemingly pointless option which the cautious grad should seriously consider. Not!
After paying you’re confronted with the final exam: 25 multiple choice questions, all pretty simple. I had doubts about a couple only. A very small, certainly less than 4% of the questions were about Speed Racer, who likes to hang out at the mall.
You hit the submit button, are told you passed, or not (I did) and a final button to click to get the certificate issued and send you to the brief and not annoying at all feedback form. It took me between 3 and 4 hours to complete the course. All in all, a pretty good experience. To summarize:
- Total cost: $19.95
- Time to completion: 3.x hours
- No filler. No annoying graphics, gimmicks, games.
- Information brief and to the point. Well written, easy to read.
- Pages load fast. Easy navigation.
- Simple questions, easy final exam.
- Try before you buy. Great, great option.
- SSH only for credit card transaction. You specify your password and give them your driver license number over HTTP.
- Sneaky options at checkout. They should be upfront about these ridiculous expedited shipping charges. Avoid by taking the course early.
Overall: very good experience, highly recommended. (Note: I’m in no way connected to this traffic school, or to any other traffic school.) Is this the best online traffic school out there? Impossible to tell.
Hopefully this review will be helpful to other people looking for a traffic school.
I’m still quite amazed there’s no site with reviews of traffic schools. I expect a good such site would have very high traffic and make a bundle on advertising, at the very least from the traffic schools themselves.
Another final thought: in these times of financial crisis for the state, why doesn’t the state run the online traffic school itself? It seems like a rather trivial site to implement, with a large source of revenue, so trivial and lucrative that there are hundreds of Court approved sites already. I wonder how much the state could collect from this…