SPEVAK: Costly consequences of a speeding ticket

By John SpevakOctober 3, 2013 

Readers of this column with a good memory may recall a column I wrote in April about a speeding ticket I received.

In the column I expressed frustration about getting a ticket on a clear night on an open road as I was descending the Grapevine between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.

I promised a subsequent column on what happened to me after the friendly highway patrolman presented me with the ticket and tried to comfort me by saying, “You can go to traffic school, and this ticket won’t affect your insurance. You can even go online and take the class at home.”

It’s taken me a while to write this follow-up column, perhaps because my post-ticket experiences were so frustrating that subconsciously I didn’t want to relive them. But a promise to my readers is a promise, so here is the post-speeding story.

The directions on the ticket indicated I should call the Kern County Superior Court for further directions. I did. Unfortunately, like all court systems in California, Kern’s court budget and staffing had been severely cut.

The first time I called the court, about an hour before the office’s closing time at 4:30p.m., I was put on hold. I heard annoying music and messages for 20, 30, 40 minutes. Then, at exactly 4:30, the hold music stopped and a busy signal began. The phone call died the second the office closed.

Then I checked the court’s website and found more than 100 authorized online traffic schools from which to choose. Most charged around $20. That’s not too bad, I said to myself.

The court website also noted that I’d have to pay $64 to the court for the privilege of attending traffic school. That also wasn’t too bad. Maybe the cop was right. This speeding ticket wouldn’t set me back that much: about $84, plus the short time I would spend at my computer at home.

The following week I tried the court office again. Again I spent a long time on hold, but eventually I did reach a human. She asked for my ticket number, and then said, yes, indeed, I had a ticket and needed to pay, besides the $64, another $385.

“What?!” I said to myself. But to the woman I calmly asked, “Are you sure that’s correct?”

“Yes,” she said. “That’s the fine for going 20 miles over the 65 mph limit on the highway.”

I was tempted to fight it, but it’s a long way to Kern County. I swallowed, gulped, and swallowed again. Following the website directions, I paid $449 by credit card online and swallowed harder.

That $64 expense just for the privilege of attending traffic school went from being annoying to intensely irksome.

Now it was time to pick an online course. From the many choices, I chose, somewhat randomly, the I Drive Safely school. The cost was only $14.95.

I was now determined to finish this online class as quickly as possible and get this whole thing over with. At the course’s end I would have to pass a test with at least 70percent. I could do that.

I tried to zip through the course, but it was set up so I had to spend significant time, besides reading the text and practice questions, watching videos every so often.

Then my type-A competitive testing personality got in the way. For the final I was determined to get not 70 but 90percent. I started to read more slowly, so I wouldn’t be fooled by trick questions.

The “few minutes” I at first expected to spend online became six hours, spread over three days. I absorbed a lot of minuscule driving details, including the new approach to holding a steering wheel, not at “10 and 2” but at “8 and 4.”

I finally finished the course and passed the final with a 94percent, which provided little or no satisfaction. The traffic school sent me, for an additional $7.95, a certificate showing I had passed.

I was done, but I was out $476.90 and a good chunk of three days of my life, all for what I still consider a ticky-tacky ticket.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 30 years, are encouraged and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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