Yesterday’s Thoughts

November 24, 2007

Traffic School

I rolled a stop sign last month and I received a well deserved ticket.

When it came time to pay the ticket, I elected to pay an additional $32 to the City and County of San Francisco and $20 to online provider of traffic school in this jurisdiction. This allows take a course and a test. Once I pass the test, I can have the infraction removed from my driving record, protecting my insurance rates, and presumably rendering me a better, safer driver.

I went through the course materials and took the chapter tests. The content was reasonably well presented, although the web site was annoyingly slow and there were a number of infelicitous UI decisions (arrows that seemed to imply links, but didn’t, no url or other identifying information in the e-mail that they sent me to confirm my registration, etc.)

Some of the material that was presented in the course and the chapter quizzes didn’t seem like it was particularly important to the goal of improving my driving skills and making me a safer, more responsible driver. Material on what constituted valid forms of identification at the DMV is useful, but it isn’t going to keep me from pulling out into traffic when I don’t have the right of way.

Little did I know. After I completed the course, I was directed to take a final exam that was administered by NTSA, the National Traffic Safety Administration, which is not the NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA is a branch of the Federal government. NTSA is not:

NTSA provides home study traffic school course review and evaluation to insure compliance with all Court requirements and standards. All home study traffic school course reviews conducted by NTSA for court approval, are conducted by Mr. Ernie Garcia, a retired Highway Patrol Lieutenant with 30 years of experience.

In theory, NTSA is an independent agent that can ensure that the student has taken the course and has learned the material. Each independent provider of traffic school sends their students on to NTSA for final testing.

This final exam is crazy. I thought that my browser had been hijacked, or that I was the subject of a prank. Some of the questions were ridiculous beyond belief.

Examples:

test_questions.jpg

In case you aren’t following me, these three questions pertain not to the Motor Vehicle Code or rules for defensive driving, but to the very specific version of the course materials that I studied. The first refers to a specific illustration in the course materials, the second and third to how the material was presented.

It gets worse.

test_blackout_question.png

This test question is asking me about the background color of a particular item?! Unbelievable.

Worse, there is no right answer listed. The background is neither yellow, purple, orange, red, nor blue. It is white, I checked the html.

BlackoutBackground.jpg

The background color for that particular paragraph is the same as the preceding one, only the font color is changed to red. Red is not the correct answer.

background_answer.png

There are 40 questions on each test. The student must get 20 out of 24 on the questions that pertain to DMV materials and 13 out of the 16 questions that “NTSA develops with each traffic school, security, or course specific questions that relate to specific events in their course that have nothing to do with the required curriculum information of the course.”

Is anyone well served by these questions? The point is to ensure that the person taking the exam is the same as the person who took the course. Or, or from the exam web site, “To reasonably insure that the person taking the traffic school course is the one taking the final examination.” I don’t suppose that you could accurately answer these questions unless you had looked at the course, but I read through the course and I couldn’t remember how many rows of signs there were in a particular illustration or what the first illustration in Chapter 3 was. I have a reasonably good memory for this sort of material, but come on.

Couldn’t the independent traffic schools content be differentiated by content instead of layout? The course materials had various random content, jokes, even a couple of lines about how the school website was created with Dreamweaver. Do they really have to test on formatting?

I was expecting the blood and gore movies of my high school driver’s education classes. This is scarier.

It just reinforces my previous beliefs that traffic school is a scam.

Drive safely.

2 Comment(s)

  1. Soot Sprite | Dec 14, 2007 | Reply

    Whoa. Your glass really IS half-empty, Dr. Baxter! Here you are, on, Thanksgiving weekend no less, complaining about the idiotic exam questions of online Traffic School. Tell me, would you rather have been sitting in some uncomfortable chair for 8 hours in a fluorescent-lit room, listening to someone drone on about right-of-ways for 20 minutes, wondering when you can go take a leak and chow down on that banana that is getting really brown in your laptop bag?

    Come on! Or try going to Oakland at 7:15 in the morning to wait in line with 150 scary-looking people (and being the only one trying to pass the time by reading a book) for a court hearing to protest your ticket, then ending up paying $361 and then not having enough money to get out of the parking lot !

    Get a life, man. What’s so bad about being able to go through the motions in the luxury of your home–or better yet–take the test in some cozy cafe on your laptop??? Or do you feel some sort of guilt about that?

    Actually, what’s really interesting here is that you’ve spent a portion of your Thanksgiving weekend analyzing an idiotic exam for people who make stupid driving mistakes…when you could be doing something really valuable or creative. Like playing with your kids. Writing poetry to your wife. Designing album covers. Getting a head start on your holiday shopping.

    Thanks for listening. You’re a thoughtful man. Smile.

  2. Ray Baxter | Dec 14, 2007 | Reply

    I spent my Thanksgiving weekend taking the course and the idiotic exam. Complaining about it was the fun part.

    The problem with traffic school, which I didn’t really address, is that it is doubtful that attending traffic school, either online, on with an uncomfortable chair and a browning banana, does much to make one a better or safer driver. Traffic school is basically a sop to drivers, a whoops or a do over. It probably reduces the number of drivers who go to traffic court and otherwise complain about their tickets. Maybe those are useful social functions, but it doesn’t make the either the offending driver, or society as a whole safer.

    Traffic school is classroom-based learning of a traditional sort that doesn’t address the causes of accidents. Accidents can be caused because one driver incorrectly believes that they have the right of way, or they didn’t know what a particular sign meant, but it is much more common that one driver, or both, weren’t paying proper attention to the road, or were driving unsafely in a way that isn’t going to be altered by any written material. In short, classroom traffic school is a not a remedy for poor driving.

    Online traffic school is an improvement over in-person traffic school as far as the comfort and ease are concerned, and both are equally good at imparting the information that they seek to impart, but neither accomplish the goals of increased safety.

    My point here is only about the test for online traffic school. The test for online traffic school – covering the formating of the illustrations in the course – seems more than a little idiotic to me. I could memorize every sentence of the course and still not remember whether the background was red or green. I could know all of the content of the course, and fail the test.

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