What are the two schools?
There are two types of “school” that you might encounter if you ever receive a red light camera ticket. One is Defensive Driving Diversion (also known as Defensive Driving School), and the other is Traffic Survival School. You can read about both in more detail in our post about the difference between Defensive Driving School and Traffic Survival School. In summary, Defensive Driving Diversion is a 4-hour class you can take in person or online, and upon completion, your red light camera ticket is dismissed, with no points and no fine. Traffic Survival School is an 8-hour class you must take in-person, and if you are found responsible for a red light camera violation, the Arizona MVD will order you to take Traffic Survival School to avoid a license suspension. If you are eligible for Defensive Driving Diversion, we always recommend doing that, rather than challenging the red light camera ticket and risking having to go to Traffic Survival School.
Where does the money go?
When you get a ticket, the government is going to get some money out of it, whether directly in the form of a fine, or indirectly from a portion of the fee paid to the company teaching Defensive Driving School. Because Defensive Driving School results in no “fine,” the fee for the class is very similar to the amount that would have been paid in a fine, and the government receives a significant portion of the class fee. For the Traffic Survival School Class, the driver has already paid a fine, so the fee for the class is much less because the government has already received its pound of flesh, so to speak.
In Tucson, for example, the distribution of fees breaks down like this:
Defensive Driving School: The driver pays a total of $234 for the class, which is distributed as follows:
$130.00 goes to the City of Tucson
$65.00 goes to the State of Arizona
$39.00 goes to the Traffic School
Traffic Survival School: The driver pays a total of $89.70, which is distributed as follows:
$40.70 goes to the National Safety Council
$49.00 goes to the Traffic School
As you can see, the City of Tucson (or whatever jurisdiction is operating the red light camera) makes a lot of money from Defensive Driving School. Red light camera programs are not about safety, they are about generating revenue. That’s why you see cities doing things like shortening yellow light times to generate more tickets, ignoring tickets issued to government drivers, or withholding unfavorable photo enforcement data until after city elections.