It’s Saturday school for bad drivers. More than half were here at Rocky Cologne’s Comedy Traffic Schools for speeding, three for running a red light or stop sign, one for failing to yield to a pedestrian and one for stopping in California.
Eleven guests, including a chihuahua named Mocha, gathered in a room Villa Hotel in San Mateo, where the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Liberace has been there once. A Chihuahua, who was one of the runners, watched the class from his carrier bag.
The alarm went off at 9:30 a.m. “This is when I like to wake up,” one student said, turning it off. The students declined to give their names to avoid being identified as attending traffic school.
Comedy school is a popular way drivers can take when they encounter traffic violations. It follows the theory that people learn better when they laugh, according to research published in the journal College Teaching. It’s about as California as it gets, including the state’s traffic and its crowded entertainment industry. The the cost of traffic school in California it’s usually between $20 and $45, although driver’s licensees are allowed to charge any fine during their course, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles received 509,694 driving school completion certificates in 2021, a 32% drop from 2018. This number represents the number of people who attend any type of driving school, not the one that includes laughter. The DMV does not keep information about the type of schools people attend.
There are currently 182 private driving schools and 94 private driving schools approved by the DMV in California. Few of them have a twisted sense of humor.
In 2011, about 86% of drivers took private driving lessons, according to DMV report from 2021. In 2014, the number fell to 20%, and most people choose online courses or home courses.
“It wasn’t as popular as it was when I first started,” Cologne said.
A real estate fraud investigator turned comedian in New York City, Cologne decided to start his own acting school after encountering a driving school class for being too fast. He tried creative outlets like painting and music but found great success in a sports club one night in Burlingame.
He said: “The moment I heard that laugh was like nirvana.”
Cologne opened the school in 1997 and has trained everyone from 49er football players to conference members and Uber drivers. They got students drunk and someone held a knife to their throats during class. Many of his students are no longer the first in his class. Above all, they educate ordinary people.
“The only difference between you and me is that you were caught,” he told his disciples.
Most of the class time is made up of watching Stanley Robert’s “People Behaving Badly” series from KRON4. These include videos of road violence, pedestrians being distracted and drunk drivers crashing.
“This is your video!” Cologne said, pointing her unyielding student at the pedestrian.
Cologne also shares classroom stories she’s heard from her former students, including horror stories warning about the importance of wearing a seat belt and not driving under the influence.
When he’s not laughing, Cologne jokes, “You guys feel like I owe you!”
Before the pandemic, Cologne had two other players who helped them teach about 80 students each week at four different locations in the Bay Area. The plague forced him to downsize. He started taking classes outside once or twice a month.
Now, he teaches a class of 10-15 once a week. However, he is looking to take more classes and expand his school to other locations, including Sacramento.
Cologne charges $60 for its class, which students pay on top of their traffic ticket and other DMV fees in preparation for going to driving school. The non-refundable administrative fee for Sacramento County’s maintenance service costs $52. The case is usually settled within one month of the completion of the course.
“Take a ticket, come and see me!” Rocky said at the end of the class.
Online comedy traffic school
Rocky’s Comedy Traffic Schools is one of the few traffic schools that still offers in-person classes in addition to online courses. Many traffic schools are offered remotely, such as the Comedy Traffic School, which anyone in California can sign up for.
Students at Comedy Traffic School can choose to take voice, audio or video.
“The student is already upset that he got the ticket, and he’s already upset that he just paid hundreds of dollars for the ticket. So when they come to us they want something funny,” said Tasha Garcia who is the owner of Comedy Traffic School based in El Segundo. “They want something lighter.”
The video features “CHiPs” actor and police officer Erik Estrada speaking on the course. The school updates the videos every time the policy is changed.
The course is eight hours of material, divided into five sections with five multiple choice questions at the end of each section. Students must score 70% or higher on the final exam to pass.
Students only pay $19.95 after the course. The school then sends the certificate of completion to the court electronically. The court may take up to 30 business days to process and resolve the case and notify the DMV.
The main selling point of the Comedy Traffic School is the free tickets to the comedy club that are given for completing the course. The school works with local sports clubs and the best shows in California.
Garcia said online traffic school was an untapped market when it first opened 10 years ago. Most street schools are private, he said.
“Someone always gets a ticket. Someone will always want our school,” he added.
Danelle Grier, a Los Angeles woman, took Comedy Traffic School to avoid an increase in her insurance. He finished the course 45 minutes later from his bed.
“Even though the idea was kind of corny, it kept me engaged,” Grier said.
He recalled that the DMV toll was more expensive than the course.
Benefits of attending traffic school
Although drivers can often pay fines and skip driving school, the violation should still be yours driving recordwhich can raise insurance rates.
Those who complete driving school and pay the DMV fine still get a point on their DMV driving record, but the point remains private. The deadline for attending traffic school is usually within 60 days of paying the traffic ticket.
If you get four points within a year on your record, your license can be suspended for six months.
Californians cannot attend driving school because:
Equipment faults (such as driving with broken lights)
Non-moving offenses (such as traffic violations)
Misdemeanors (eg, driving without insurance)
Misdemeanors with the appearance of a legal offense (such as hit and run tickets)
Alcohol or drug abuse
Commercial vehicle offenses (such as driving a bus)
Drivers who have attended traffic school for another ticket received within the last 18 months are also not eligible to attend.
The beginning of the comedy traffic school
The Comedy School was started in 1985 by Ray and Linda Regan, the owners of West Coast Traffic School in San Gabriel, California. At the time, street schools were taught by off-duty police officers.
In the middle of boring classes, Regan found that students gave the best test results to the teachers who were joking with them.
The following year, the Regans opened Lettuce Amuse U and began hiring actors to teach the class. The school ended up doubling its class size and expanding from San Diego to San Francisco.
Cologne said several comedians have started attending traffic school to help supplement their income. Although the pandemic has slowed down business, it is still a competitive business.
Several students in Cologne reported how some driving schools only have an online option or don’t answer the phone when they call.
Dom Magini, 43, who came down from Folsom to take the Cologne class last year after being caught up in the race, said he would pay even if the prices were raised.
“I’ve been to a lot of driving schools and none of them have been more interesting than this guy,” Magini said.