The Myth: It doesn’t matter if I pay my ticket. I will just take the defensive driving class, and have the points removed.
The Reality: Defensive driving classes do not remove points from your record.
Ever heard the old cliche, “if it sounds too good to be true, it is?”
Well, that truism applies to defensive driving classes.
Insurance companies wield enormous power. Their political action committees are among the most influential in New York City Hall, Albany, and Washington, D.C.
Thanks to their influence, many state DMV’s, including New York, partner with various defensive driving classes that make all sorts of promises. Take a defensive driving class, and it will reduce your insurance premiums. Take a defensive driving class, it will knock points off your license. Take a defensive driving class, ###.
Even the name is a stroke of marketing brilliance: the PIRP, which stands for “points insurance reduction program.” It’s all in the name, right? Reducing points for insurance. What more could a driver want?
The New York DMV web site only fans the flames of this falsehood. Check out this web page, which is unhelpfully called, “How to reduce your points and insurance rate.”
But, if you take the time to read past the headline, you’ll see the truth. From the same page: “the tickets/points do not physically come off your driving record.”
And then, a little farther down: “Completing a course does not prevent a mandatory suspension or revocation, eliminate your responsibility to pay a driver responsibility assessment, or give you a way to reduce future driver violation points.”
The truth is, even if you take a defensive driving course, points from your convictions will remain on your record.
Now, does this make the PIRP course totally worthless? No, of course not.
Some insurance companies will give a driver some credit if they see a defensive driving course on the driver’s record. But understand that this is not universal or required. Insurance is a contractual agreement between two parties. All insurers and all policies are unique. Some insurers might discount your premiums for a defensive driving class, and some won’t. It depends on the contract, your policy, and your driving record, among other factors.
Some traffic court judges will give a driver some credit if they see a course on their record. This scenario only applies after a conviction in court; until then, the judge does not know the driver’s record. After conviction, the judge sees all past ticket convictions, suspensions, accidents, traffic-related criminal convictions, and, yes, defensive driving courses. The judge then decides, based on the relevant eighteen-month period, what fine to levy, and whether to suspend or revoke the motorist’s license. Some judges - not all - will give a motorist up to four points of “credit” for a defensive driving course taken during the correct time period. This means that, if you have a bad record, a course may (emphasis on “may”) reduce the likelihood of suspension.
All of this is to say, it’s not a bad idea to take a defensive driving class. There’s a chance it could reduce your insurance premiums. And there’s a chance it could keep your license from being suspended. (And hey, on a practical level, you might learn something about how to be a safer driver.)
But PIRP courses do not, in any way, remove points from your record. If you have a ticket with points and you pay it, or are found guilty, you will get points on your license. Period. No matter what.
The only way to keep your license clean is to avoid convictions. Try not to get tickets. If you get tickets, get them dismissed. For a better chance at that happening, contact an attorney.