Traffic class options grow

PHOENIX - Traffic violators who are eligible for defensive driving school might soon be allowed to take classes anywhere in the state. Under current regulations, a court can require students to attend a certain school.

There are 15 defensive driving schools in the state, all of which have to be certified by the Arizona Supreme Court.

County courts can contract with a limited number of driving schools, called preferred providers. People whose case is heard in that court must attend a school listed as preferred provider in that court.

But a bill in the Legislature would allow people to take defensive driving classes at any of the 15 schools throughout the state.

House Bill 2001 is what sponsor Rep. James Weiers, R-Phoenix, calls ""technical by nature,"" and it gives residents of Arizona's rural areas more choices of which school to attend, said Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park.

Of the 15 defensive driving schools, 10 are in the greater Phoenix area. The other five are located in Tucson, Casa Grande, Kingman, Prescott and Claypool.

Generally people have to attend defensive driving schools in the communities where they receive the ticket. This means some people travel hours from home to take the class. Under the bill, they would go to the school closest to their residence.

""It is something that people have discussed for a while,"" said Barrett Marson, House communications director. ""It's an easy one to fix.""

More than 200,000 people attend defensive driving school in Arizona annually, said Jerry Landau, the Arizona Supreme Court director of government affairs, a $25 million business.

Under current laws, any driving school can apply to become part of the preferred provider list at any court. People with a ticket can get permission from the court to attend driving school closer to their homes.

But both processes involve lots of paperwork that require time and patience, said Elaine Lewis, the owner of Gila County Traffic Survival School in Claypool.

Lewis has heard students in her class complain about the lengthy procedures, and she said she thinks if the bill passes more people would be able to attend her classes at the courthouse in Globe and at the Pinal County administration building.

But Supreme Court officials are concerned that passing the measure now might be rushed and that it might disrupt a working system that everyone is used to, Landau said.

He is concerned there will be difficulties with money transactions between the driving schools and courts, and with documents being mailed to students on time, he said.

""It's the beginning of April, and there's a lot of discussion that needs to be had on any of the unintended consequences of this bill and maintaining the integrity of the process,"" Landau said. ""Right now we risk consequences that we just may not know about at this time.""


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