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Bill would OK online defensive-driving schools

Cronkite News Service | January 28, 2016

PHOENIX - The state Senate approved a bill Tuesday that allows drivers who receive citations to attend any state-approved driving school, including online traffic schools.

Currently, violators can attend only traffic schools that contract with the jurisdiction in which they receive the ticket.

HB 2001, sponsored by House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, passed on a 24-5 vote and will return to the House for consideration. Barrett Marson, communications director for House Republicans, said the bill is intended to provide easier access to driving school. Marson said that under the terms of the bill, a driver from Tucson who gets a ticket in Flagstaff could take defensive-driving classes in Tucson instead of Flagstaff.

Paul Hallums, president of the National Traffic Safety Institute, a Tucson business offering traditional and online defensive-driving classes, said the bill is the result of out-of-state companies trying to move into the Arizona market.

"The money that came to push this bill all came from California," Hollums said. "A lot of the money that currently stays in Arizona will start going to California now."

Hollums said some online defensive-driving schools based in California do not strictly enforce requirements on how long drivers must commit to class.

"We want to see the bar stay high," Hallums said. "And this is taking it down a notch."

Marson acknowledged that the bill would open up competition among driving schools, including out-of-state online schools, but noted that all driving schools must be accredited by the state Supreme Court.

"If it's good for the Supreme Court, then it should be good enough for all the cities and counties and municipalities or whoever," Marson said.

Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, said he voted against the bill based on conversations with Phoenix judges who said the bill would take power away from cities.

"They felt that the Supreme Court vetting process was not as strict as theirs were," he said.

It drew opposition from some municipalities, insurance companies and law enforcement organizations, primarily over a provision that would have allowed a person to attend defensive-driving school three times in a two-year span. Current law allows drivers to take the class only once every two years. The bill was amended to drop that provision.

A floor amendment clarified that the driving schools would still have to meet local court requirements for automated reporting. Some court officials worried that reports would have to be filed manually, resulting in added costs and inconvenience for the courts.

Steve Soldis, founder and president of TrafficSchoolOnline.com, a Santa Rosa, Calif., company that offers online defensive-driving classes, said opening up the market would benefit consumers. Free enterprise brings prices down and increases quality, he said.

Soldis, whose company offers classes for more than a dozen states, said Arizona has some of the strictest requirements for driving schools. Differences in requirements from city to city and exclusive contracts between driving schools and municipalities make the process difficult for drivers, he said.

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