AZ Defensive Driving vs. Traffic Survival School, What’s the Difference?

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If you’ve received a traffic citation in the state of Arizona, you should be aware that there are two completely different types of “traffic schools”, and that there are big differences between the two. Depending on the type of violation you committed, or the type of citation you received, you may be required to attend a class, or you may be given the option to attend a class in exchange for dismissal of your violation.

So, what’s the difference? The short answer is that Traffic Survival School is required, and Defensive Driving is usually optional, though there are some exceptions. You may be required to attend Traffic Survival School if you received a ticket some time ago, and have already had points assessed against your driving record. If you receive a letter from the MVD stating that you must complete a Traffic Survival School program, this is not optional — you must comply, or else risk having the MVD suspend your driver’s license. Defensive Driving is a court diversion program commonly offered to drivers who have received a traffic citation but have not yet been convicted of a violation. In most cases, when you receive a traffic ticket in Arizona, you can choose to attend a Defensive Driving program, whereby upon completion, points will not be assessed to your driving record. Be aware that even if you do not elect to attend Defensive Driving, in some cases, a judge may require you to attend Defensive Driving or Traffic Survival School.

Differences in Course Material and Delivery

There are a few key differences in the rules and curriculum for a Traffic Survival School versus a Defensive Driving School. It is for this reason that the two are not interchangeable. If you accidentally take Defensive Driving when you should have taken Traffic Survival, your completion certificate will not be accepted, and you’ll end up having to enroll with another school and complete the correct type of course in order to remain licensed.

Defensive Driving courses are intended to be 4 - 4 ½ hours long and may be taken either online or in person. The lessons will cover Arizona traffic laws and basic safe driving practices. Defensive Driving is known as a “court diversion” program because (most commonly) the people who take it are doing so to have their violation dismissed and thereby diverted from a conviction.

Traffic Survival School is a slightly more in-depth program. The classes are intended to be 8 hours long, and may only be taken in-person. Online courses are not permitted. This should be a red flag to anyone searching online for an approved Traffic Survival School — if the course itself is conducted via the Internet, it will not satisfy the requirements. Even if you live out of state, you will not be allowed to take the course online. The Traffic Survival School Administration gives detailed instructions for those who live out-of-state, but the requirement to attend a class in person remains the same.

Determining Which Class To Take

In the majority of cases, you will have received some kind of written documentation or notification that clearly states either “Traffic Survival School” or “Defensive Driving”. If you received a letter from the MVD, a court order, or other documentation from the court, give it a thorough read-through and you’ll likely find that the required class type is indicated. Many times a list of schools is provided as well. If you’re given a list of approved schools from an official source, it’s a safe bet to stick to that list.

If you are unable to find a clear indication of which type of class to take, call the court that is handling your citation and inquire.

Am I eligible to take Defensive Driving?

Your eligibility to attend Defensive Driving will depend on several factors, including the severity and/or type of violation committed. Drivers who were issued a citation for involvement in a collision that resulted in serious injury or death are not eligible. The Arizona Supreme Court provides a list of eligible violation codes, to which you can compare the violation code shown on your citation. In some cases, the citation may show more than one violation code. This means that you were cited for more than one violation. The Defensive Driving Court diversion program may be used to dismiss only one violation in a 12-month period, so only one of the violations can be dismissed, while the other will go on your record.

Of course, if you have attended Defensive Driving in the past 12 months for a completely different citation, you wouldn’t be eligible to attend again within that 12-month timeframe. The state of Arizona uses the citation dates to gauge the eligibility time period, meaning that when you take a Defensive Driving course for a violation, you are not eligible to do so again unless the citation date of the second violation is at least 1 year from the citation date of the first violation.

There are also restrictions for commercial drivers. Commercial driver's license holders who were cited while driving a vehicle that requires a CDL are not eligible to attend Defensive Driving.

Why am I being required to complete Traffic Survival School?

Traffic Survival School is intended as both a penalty and a corrective measure for drivers who have committed severe and/or frequent traffic violations. There are a variety of circumstances or violations that may cause the Arizona MVD (or an individual judge) to require your attendance, including:

  • Red light violation
  • DUI
  • Aggressive driving
  • If you have 8 - 12 points against your license within a 12-month period
  • If you have a graduated driver’s license (drivers 18 or younger) and receive a traffic conviction

The state of Arizona takes a hard-line approach about serious or repeat traffic violators, which is why they will require this more extensive type of program in those cases. The idea is to educate drivers so that they’ll be less likely to commit a violation in the future, and Arizona roads will be that much safer for all of us.

Still not sure which Arizona traffic school course is right for you? Feel free to leave us a comment or contact us with your questions.