When a New York City taxi driver received the first-ever speeding citation in the United States in 1899, he was handed a harsh penalty: a trip to jail. His offense? Driving his electric buggy at 12 miles per hour.

In the modern world, penalties for repeated traffic violations also can be harsh, including sky-high insurance rates and loss of driving privileges. Fortunately for today’s drivers, there’s a better option: traffic school.

Drivers cited for traffic violations often want to dispute a ticket or pay it off to avoid further hassle, but they should consider the consequences. Going to traffic school can result in escaping severe fines and higher insurance rates, and it can maintain an unblemished driving record.

Show Me the Money: Fines

Traffic fines range from minor to the seemingly exorbitant, varying by individual state laws and driving backgrounds. Drivers typically wish to make violations disappear, but once a driver has signed a ticket and remitted the fee, the violation goes on the driver’s record for as long as three years.

Cited drivers should always investigate the possibility of attending traffic school instead of, or along with, paying a monetary penalty. Courts often agree to reduce financial penalties when drivers attend traffic school. More significantly, traffic school often prevents a violation from being reported on a driver’s record. There is a temptation to believe that attending traffic school isn’t worth the lost time, but drivers should consider their records and insurance rates.

Show Me the Money: Insurance Rates

A single moving violation over three to five years typically doesn’t impact insurance rates, depending on individual state laws and insurance policies. However, drivers who have received violations in the previous two years may be surprised at their next insurance bill if they aren’t proactive.

Whether it’s best to contest a citation or attend traffic school varies by individual state laws and insurance policies. Drivers should analyze their policies to determine whether attending traffic school erases the citation, or they can contact their insurance company without giving their name to ask whether going to traffic school prevents insurance rate hikes.

Averting License Suspension

A driver’s license usually is not suspended for one or two moving violations unless the motorist is younger than 18 or the citation is for driving under the influence. However, drivers should still take the citations seriously. Many states have systems of assessing points, and every citation that is not successfully fought or expunged by attending traffic school accumulates toward the total points. When a driver reaches a set level of points, their license can be suspended or revoked.

Once a driver’s license is revoked or suspended, drivers often receive a hearing with a hearing officer or a judge. During the hearing, drivers should give reasons for not previously contesting the violations and should explain the actions they are taking to drive in a more careful manner following the citations. It also may help for drivers to explain that they need their driver’s licenses for their work. In addition, they should ask if there is an alternative, such as attending traffic school.

Traffic School Attendance

Traffic school usually takes about six to eight hours of learning time and includes lessons on traffic safety. It isn’t fun, and it’s not meant to be; the state’s goal is to assure that motorists don’t repeat their traffic violations. However, it’s worth it for motorists who end traffic school with clean records. A record with no violations allows for future errors, and it entitles a motorist to more-reasonable insurance rates. Traffic school is a sure, bet unlike contesting a traffic violation.

Motorists should be aware that traffic school can help within limits; it does not give motorists free rein to continue racking up violations. Most states put limits on how frequently traffic school can be used and limit it to specific violations. For example, traffic school may not be an option for motorists cited for traveling at more than 30 miles per hour above the posted speed limit.

Motorists should contact the court after the completion of traffic school to ensure that offenses are dismissed. Don’t spend your valuable time in traffic school and then fail to mail your proof to the court!

Unlike in the late 19th century, today’s motorists don’t usually go to jail for speeding and other common traffic violations. But with penalties including steep fines and temporary or permanent loss of driving privileges, traffic school is a great option to consider.