3.2 Diversion and Plea Agreement Restrictions; Traffic Violator School
Overall Effectiveness Concerns: Although there is some research examining the effectiveness of this countermeasure, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the positive effects outweigh the negative effects that have also been observed.
In many jurisdictions, drivers who have accumulated a specific number of demerit points on their driver’s licenses are given the option of attending Traffic Violator School in order to reduce their punishment. In most instances, if they complete Traffic Violator School, their traffic offenses are dismissed or removed from their driving record (Masten & Peck, 2004).
Negotiated plea agreements are a necessary part of an effective and efficient court system. However, plea agreements may allow offenders to have their penalties reduced or eliminated, for example if a driver is allowed to avoid a driver’s license suspension by attending Traffic Violator School.
Use: No data are available on the number of jurisdictions in which Traffic Violator School is available or the number of offenders who use Traffic Violator School to reduce their penalties. Similarly, no data are available on the use of other plea agreements for speeding or aggressive driving violations.
Effectiveness: Masten and Peck’s review (2004) included high-quality studies of over 30 group meeting programs, including Traffic Violator School. Taken together, these group-meeting programs reduced subsequent crashes by 5% and violations by 8%. Masten and Peck point out that Traffic Violator School programs in California increased, rather than decreased, crashes because they allowed offenders to escape more severe penalties and start again with clean driving records. This was reaffirmed in a study in 2010, where accounting for the favorable characteristics of the Traffic Violator School participants (e.g., lower prior convictions) led to a further increase (from 5% to 10%) in crash risk in the one-year after participation in the course (as compared to a convicted group) (Gebers, 2010). Masten and Peck (2004) were not able to determine whether other Traffic Violator School programs that dismissed an offender’s violation had similar negative effects. These reductions or eliminations of penalties also make it difficult to use driver histories to track and provide serious sanctions to repeat violators.
A more recent evaluation of a diversionary training course comes from the United Kingdom. The National Speed Awareness Course is a short training course provided by police departments that speeders can take as an alternative to paying penalties for low-level speeding infractions (Ipsos MORI et al., 2018). The objective of the course is to convince participants to comply with speed limits by fostering lasting changes in driver attitudes and behaviors towards speeding. The course does this by directly challenging driver existing attitudes, offering insight, awareness and understanding about their speed choices, and importantly, educating them on how they can change their behavior. The effectiveness of the training course was evaluated by comparing crash records for drivers that participated in the course with matched drivers that sited for similar levels of speeding, but whom did not take the course, or were not offered the course (Ipsos MORI et al., 2018). The evaluation findings reported that drivers who took the course were significantly less likely to reoffend over the 3-year evaluation period, with the difference diminishing but remaining significant after the first 6 months following the course.
Costs: Costs for establishing diversion or Traffic Violator School programs will depend on the nature of the program. Costs include developing and maintaining a tracking system, notifying offenders, and administering the Traffic Violator School. Costs for limiting or eliminating diversion programs, plea agreements, and Traffic Violator School can be determined by comparing the per-offender costs of these programs with the costs of the penalties that would otherwise be applied.
Time to implement: Diversion or Traffic Violator School programs will require at least 6 months to establish and implement. They can be modified in a few months.
- Diversion and plea agreement issues in alcohol-impaired driving: Diversion and plea agreements have been discussed and evaluated more extensively for alcohol-impaired-driving offenses than for speeding and aggressive driving offenses. See the Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Section 3.2 for additional discussion.
- Public acceptance, enforcement, and publicity: Changes in the adjudication of speeding and aggressive driving infractions, such as limiting or eliminating diversion and plea agreements, by themselves cannot reduce speeding and aggressive driving. Traffic laws and adjudication are essential to, but only a part of, a system that includes broad public acceptance, active enforcement, and publicity (NHTSA, 200la).