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California Defensive Driving Instructors

In California, defensive driving instructors teach courses about how to stay safe on the road and the importance of safe driving. California defensive driving courses are often aimed at people who have a traffic ticket and want to keep it from showing up on their driving records and impacting their insurance rates. In California, these defensive driving classes are referred to as traffic violator school or TVS for short. 

California allows citizens to dismiss one traffic ticket each 18 months by taking the 8-hour traffic violator class. The idea is to give people a little "refresher course" on the rules of the road so that they will be more inclined to obey California traffic laws in the future. These classes are offered by traffic violator schools. Traffic violator schools employ California traffic school instructors to teach the required material to their students, test them, and keep records of which students successfully pass the course. Then, the traffic school provides certificates of completion for the students to give to the courts. 


Who regulates traffic violator schools?

Traffic violator schools and California defensive driving instructors are regulated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV conducts background investigations on new instructors, reviews their applications for licensing, and grants California traffic school instructor licenses once all of the state requirements have been fulfilled. The DMV is also responsible for investigating complaints against California defensive driving school teachers.


Requirements for California traffic school instructors

Section 11206 of the California Vehicle Code spells out the DMV's requirements for California traffic school instructors. In order to receive an instructor's license, potential candidates must possess the following qualifications:

  • A high school education
  • Be over 18 years of age.
  • Pass a test on state traffic laws, how to operate a motor vehicle, how to drive to defensively and how to teach these concepts to students effectively.
  • Have a valid California driver's license. If you are on probation with the DMV for having too many negligent operator points, you are not eligible to become a defensive driving instructor in California.
  • A potential traffic school instructor is also ineligible if their driving record has an unsettled failure to appear or failure to pay a fine on it.
  • Candidates must be able to pass a background check. The DMV will not issue a traffic violator school license to anyone that has been convicted of a crime involving "moral turpitude" related to their job duties as a California defensive driving instructor.
  • Be able to submit a sworn statement from a licensed traffic school stating that the traffic school intends to employ you.


How do I become a California defensive driving school instructor?

There are several steps to becoming a California traffic school teacher. The first step is to find employment with a licensed traffic violator school, since you have to have a sworn statement from them to get your license. The next step is to study for the state exam. The California DMV recommends that you check your local library for books on defensive driving, as well as studying the California Driver Handbook and the Vehicle Code. The traffic violator school you are working with may also have study materials you can use.

Once you feel you are ready, you can take the written test. Your traffic school will administer the test to you. There are 50 questions on the test, and you must answer 40 correctly to pass. The test is timed, and you'll have 45 minutes to complete it. You do get three chances to pass, with a one week waiting period between each attempt. Also, the state requires that all California traffic violator school instructors be fingerprinted using electronic LiveScan technology as part of the criminal background check process. Your local police department will be able to help you find a LiveScan site, or you can contact the DMV's Occupational Licensing Offices at (916) 229-3126 (Sacramento) or (213) 744-7563 (Los Angeles.  After you pass the test and have your fingerprints taken, you'll need to submit a completed application package.

In order for the DMV to issue a California defensive driving instructor license, your application package must contain all of the following items:        

  • The Personal History Questionnaire, form OL-29 
  • The application for a traffic violator school instructor license, OL 710 
  • Exam Results
  • Proof of High School Education
  • Receipt for LiveScan fingerprinting request
  • Fees totaling $31, a $30 application fee and a $1 Family Support Program fee


After the DMV receives your application package, they will issue you a license as long as you meet all of the requirements and all of your documents are in order. It usually takes 120 days for them to complete their background check and issue a permanent license, but you should receive a temporary license in the meantime.


Continuing education requirements

Once you have your license, you'll have to apply every year for renewal. Every three years, you must either re-take the written test or submit proof to the DMV that you have completed 18 hours of continuing education. Continuing education classes can consist of seminars on variety of traffic safety-related topics. These seminars are available at instructor conferences. You must bring a verification form with you to the conference and have it signed by one of the seminar registration personnel to prove that you attended the class. You can download the form here.

Continuing education seminars are held by professional organizations for driving instructors. Your traffic violator school operator will help you find classes.


Job opportunities and income potential

Are you gifted with patience and a sense of humor? Do like to help other people learn and enjoy making a difference in the world? If you so, you may want to consider a career as a California traffic school teacher! You'll get to meet lots of new people, and you'll be able to teach them important skills that will help prevent accidents and keep your students safe on the road.

Even better, California defensive driving schools are a growing industry. More and more people are choosing to attend traffic violator school to dismiss traffic tickets. According to statistics published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in a June 2008 Member Advisory, enrollment in traffic violator schools has skyrocketed over the last decade, from 939,719 students in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2005.

How much do California defensive driving instructors make? Your income potential depends on numerous factors, such as what part of the state you are teaching in, how many classes you teach each week, and whether you work full time or part time. According to's Salary Calculator, the average salary for a defensive driving instructor in San Francisco is $38,048/year.

Are you interested in becoming a California defensive driving instructor? Click here to get started!

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