Street Smarts looks at traffic school as a way to learn new things

Ah, traffic school. After getting pulled over by a police officer for disobeying the rules of the road and paying a hefty fine, shamed drivers decide to sign up for traffic school rather than try to fight it in court. They just want to get it over and done with, instead of going head-to-head against a police officer in front of a traffic court judge. After all, that has got to be one of the most intimidating feelings in the world. This past smoky Saturday, I spent the day in George Klein’s class at Cabrillo College. Consider it a chance to learn something new, revisit traffic law through the eyes of a retired California Highway Patrol officer and realize that, sometimes, people should fight a ticket. Too many of us take the ticket, fume about it and opt to pay the fine just to get it behind us and move on. That’s not necessarily a good thing, because whatever it was that was good enough to earn you a citation in the cop's eyes may not have been illegal in the eys of a court. For example, an elderly gent, we’ll call him “Ted,” told the class about the ticket he had received from a Santa Cruz city police officer on Ocean Street at Highway 1. He was sitting patiently at the stop sign that takes motorists from northbound Ocean Street to the ramp that accesses southbound Highway 1, when he decided to give the homeless person who stood there with a “Help needed” sign $1 from his wallet. Traffic was streaming steadily by on Ocean Street Extension, so he figured he had time. After he generously tendered his $1 bill to the down-troddened man, he noticed traffic was clear and he could proceed to the highway. Suddenly, a motorcycle officer appeared in his rear-view mirror with lights and sirens, pulled him over and wrote him a $170 ticket for impeding traffic. There was one car behind him. Ted’s friends, including an attorney, encouraged him to go to traffic court and fight the ticket. But he just wanted it all to blow over, and not adversely impact his car insurance. So, he opted to not only pay the fine, but also pay the $30 for traffic school. That $200 is a lot of money for a retiree on a limited income. In traffic school Saturday, Klein agreed with Ted’s friends and told him he should have fought the ticket. Pretty much everyone who gets a traffic ticket doesn't think they deserved it, especially when they see people on the road doing things they think is far worse than what they were cited for. But motorists who feel -- to their bones -- that they are innocent should consider taking it to court. But do the research first. Check out the Law Library in the basement of the county government building, 701 Ocean Street in Santa Cruz or go online to www.lawlibrary.org. You can also search subjects and specific vehicle code sections on the Department of Motor Vehicle’s Web site at www.dmv.ca.gov.
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