Defensive Driving

Who needs defensive driving?

The short answer: we all do. Defensive driving benefits every driver on the road. It makes our streets and highways safer with drivers who are more aware and understanding of defensive driving techniques that can prevent accidents. But defensive driving courses are especially useful for many drivers, including:

  • new drivers
  • drivers desiring ticket dismissal
  • drivers with a poor driving record
  • drivers that need to reduce license points
  • drivers that need to reduce auto insurance rates

The Benefits of Defensive Driving

Defensive driving courses can teach you how to be more alert, aware, and safe on the road. And while they're great for getting you out of a sticky situation on the road, they're also useful for sticky situations with tickets, insurance, and more.

"On average, over 100,000 people are cited for traffic violations each day in the U.S," says Chicago lawyer Jared Staver. "Many states allow people to take defensive driving courses to reduce demerit points on driving records, show driver improvement to auto insurance providers, or to avoid higher fines for infractions."

Defensive driving can:

  • Get you out of a ticket
  • Reduce your license points
  • Reduce your auto insurance premiums
  • Save your license
  • Save your life

Defensive Driving Can Get You Out of a Ticket

There's no mistaking the feeling of dread when you see flashing lights in your rear view mirror. You're getting pulled over -- and probably getting a ticket. Are you a terrible driver for getting pulled over? Not necessarily. Traffic tickets happen -- even to good drivers. And if you're serious about improving your driving skills to become a more responsible driver, you can prove it by taking a defensive driving course that will help you get out of a ticket.

Many states and municipalities allow drivers to take defensive driving to reduce the impact of a traffic ticket. Some options offered in your area may include taking a defensive driving course to:

  • Reduce or remove the fine associated with the ticket (however, court fees may still apply, as well as the cost of the course)
  • Remove the ticket from your driving record
  • Avoid adding points to your license

Often, if you take a defensive driving course, it's as if your ticket never happened -- and a great way to redeem your status as a good driver. You can keep the ticket off of your record, avoid accumulating points, and even save money on the fine.

Keep in mind, however, that using defensive driving courses is not a cure for every ticket. Most states will not allow frequent offenders to get out of tickets using defensive driving courses, as they may set a yearly limit on the number of tickets that can be dismissed with defensive driving.

"Defensive driving courses are the most effective for first time traffic violators who are concerned about the impact of a ticket on their premiums," advises Staver.

Defensive Driving Can Reduce Your License Points

It's best to take a defensive driving course before a ticket ends up on your driving record, but if you weren't able to, it's not too late to keep points from accumulating on your license. In many states, defensive driving courses can still help you reduce the number of points you have.

New York State, for example, offers a Point & Insurance Reduction Program that allows drivers in the state to take defensive driving courses that refresh driving knowledge. Drivers who complete the course may be eligible to reduce as many as four points on their driving record.

Using defensive driving courses to reduce points is a great way to improve your driving record and avoid accumulating too many points -- putting you at risk for losing your driver's license and ability to drive legally.

Defensive Driving Can Reduce Your Auto Insurance Premium

Insurance companies benefit from safe drivers, so typically, they will offer a rate discount for drivers who complete a defensive driving course. This can add up to hundreds in savings over the years. And, your insurance company may even offer a discounted rate for the course itself.

Defensive driving discounts generally require that you earn a passing grade, and will only apply once every few years to a single vehicle. However, you can take the course again when your discount has expired.

But defensive driving courses aren't just for preventing high insurance premiums. They can reduce your insurance rates after a ticket or accident as well. Paying fines for traffic tickets is disappointing, but often, that's not the worst of it. Far more expensive than a $200 ticket are the higher insurance premiums that will plague you for months, even years, and can add up to thousands.

Even a speeding ticket for a few miles over the speed limit or an uneventful fender bender can drive your insurance rate through the roof. By taking a defensive driving course and avoiding putting a ticket on your record, you can avoid the rate hike that typically follows.

Defensive Driving Can Save Your License

In some cases, drivers may be required by a court order to complete a defensive driving course -- or risk losing their license. Often, mandatory defensive driving sentences are required for driving under the influence (DUI) or reckless driving. They are also common for drivers who have accumulated too many points on their driving record. For drivers plagued by serious problems, a defensive driving course can save your license -- and your ability to continue to drive legally.

Defensive Driving Can Save Your Life

While defensive driving is an excellent resource for improving your driving record, saving money on fees and insurance, and even saving your license, let's not forget what it's really for: saving your life. The skills you learn in defensive driving can help you stay safer on the road and may make you as much as 90% less likely to die in a motor vehicle accident.

In your defensive driving course, you'll learn about preventing accidents, avoiding distractions, dealing with reckless drivers, and more. This can be highly effective in teaching you how to save your life on the road. In fact, a recent study shows that while the national fatality rate for drivers under 25 is nearly 13 per 20,000, while graduates of a defensive driving program have a fatality rate of just 1.1 per 20,000 -- 90% less than the national average.

Defensive Driving 101: The Basics of Safe Driving

Staying safe on the road can be difficult, but the basics of defensive driving are easy: pay attention to your surroundings, minimize distractions, avoid hazards, and never, ever drive impaired.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

It sounds obvious, but it's important to remember: paying attention to what's on the road can save your life.

  • Scan the horizon: Prevent accidents by seeing what's up ahead. Noticing problems early on will give you more time to stop and avoid hazards.
  • Check your blind spot before changing lanes: "This sounds so simple, and it's one of the first things you learn when you're first starting out," says Staver. "Many accidents can be avoided by checking your blind spot by physically turning your head and glancing over instead of relying on your mirrors, which might not even be set properly."
  • Alert other drivers to changes you plan to make: "Use your turn signals," Staver advises. "This is another tip from driver's ed, but your turn signals are an indication to other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians that you do not plan to continue forward but intend to turn or take some alternative course."

Never Drive Impaired

Driving safely requires attention, fast thinking, and precise movements -- and that's tough to do if you're driving impaired. Impaired driving is anything that interferes with your ability to drive safely, and it can mean driving drunk, under the influence of drugs, while drowsy, or while distracted.

  • Never drink and drive: "Don't drive if you've had even a drink," advises Staver. "This might sound paranoid but it's best not to take a chance. Even if you've only had a beer or two, you could be worried about having alcohol on your breath. You might be so worried about your speed that you forget to look both ways before turning, and you hit a pedestrian. This is a distraction. Eliminate distractions by either not drinking and driving or calling a cab. There are many alternative taxi options these days."
  • Don't drive under the influence of drugs: Some states are enacting laws allowing for recreational marijuana use -- but that doesn't mean it's safe to drive under the influence of marijuana or other drugs. Just like drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs dangerously impairs your reaction time and concentration and could prove to be deadly. Use a designated driver, call a cab, or just avoid driving altogether while under the influence.
  • Don't drive drowsy: Driving while you're tired can be just as dangerous as driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs. Falling asleep at the wheel is an easy way to get into an accident -- but you don't even have to fall asleep for drowsy driving to be dangerous. Driving tired means your reaction time is slowed, and it's best to avoid it altogether. Consider stopping to rest, stay the night, or plan to drive earlier when you won't be tired.
  • Never drive distracted: "Distracted driving is the biggest threat to our safety on the roads," says Staver. "Texting, playing with a GPS, talking on the phone (even over Bluetooth), digging something out of a bag, or daydreaming are just some of the many distractions we might encounter while driving. Distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents. Take the time to put your belongings away, set your route for GPS, and situate yourself while parked.

Avoid Bad Drivers on the Road

Even if you're a safe driver, others on the road may not be. Other drivers may be impaired, have road rage, or just aren't skilled at driving safely for one reason or another. You'll need to be on the alert to avoid a collision with them.

  • Give reckless drivers a wide berth: If you've noticed someone speeding, making lots of lane changes, or otherwise acting erratically, just stay out of their way. Move over, slow down, or change lanes -- whatever you need to do to stay away from them. Even if they don't hit you directly, you might end up in an accident if you're nearby.
  • Move over for tailgaters: Tailgaters can really be a nuisance, and they might make you feel like you need to fight back. Don't. "The safest way to get rid of a tailgater is to pull over to the side and let them pass," recommends Staver. "There's no use inciting someone who is on your bumper by accelerating or slowing down quickly – that's likely to cause an accident. Be calm, signal that you are changing lanes or pulling over, and let the person pass."
  • Let go of road rage: Stay calm on the road and remember that the most important thing is getting to your destination and home safely -- not proving a point to anyone else. "Try not to bring life's frustrations into the car with you," says Staver. "Find something calming, like music that relaxes you, to listen to. Remind yourself that other people might be irritated by issues in their lives that you cannot control, but know that you can control your own reactions. Drive safely by keeping your distance and not getting upset when someone cuts you off. Many times people are in a rush to get home or don't know that a lane might be ending. Try to be present in your driving and calm down. Finding non-driving outlets to deal with stress can also minimizing aggressive driving and road rage."

Be a Safe, Courteous Driver

Respecting the rules of the road means fewer accidents and a safer ride home. You can be a more safe, courteous driver by following these tips:

  • Maintain an adequate following distance: Keep at least two car lengths between you and the vehicle in front of you, more if you're following a truck or are driving in inclement weather. Leaving this space will give you more room to slow down if you need to suddenly stop your vehicle.
  • Wear a seat belt: It's the easiest, but perhaps most important way to protect yourself from serious injury or death in the event of a crash. Take just a moment to click your seat belt, and you'll be far safer if you end up in an accident.
  • Slow down for bad weather: The speed limit may say 65, but that's only safe when it's sunny and clear. If you're facing fog, rain, snow, sleet, ice, or even heavy winds, it's safer to slow down.
  • Give right of way -- even when you don't have to: Sure, it may be your turn, but if another driver doesn't seem like they want to yield for you, just let it go and allow them to pass. It doesn't matter who is "right" if you end up injured or dead.
  • Avoid speeding: It's obvious, but worth pointing out: speed kills. Follow posted speed limits and go with the flow of traffic to stay safe.

How You Can Learn More About Defensive Driving

Defensive driving knowledge is important, but there's nothing better than a comprehensive defensive driving course offered by a qualified instructor. Defensive driving courses are state approved classes designed to improve driver safety knowledge. They can teach you safe driving techniques, update you on local driving laws, and help prevent you from getting into an accident or receiving a driving violation. Defensive driving courses have traditionally been held in a classroom or group class setting, but increasingly, defensive driving schools are offering their courses to individuals online.

A state certified defensive driving course will teach you how to:

  • safely avoid accidents
  • be a more courteous and safe driver to others
  • identify potential accidents
  • avoid dangerous driving conditions
  • follow state laws
  • improve your driving skills

But driving skills aren't the only thing you'll learn about in your defensive driving course. They offer an updated understanding of what you need to know as a driver in your state including traffic laws specific to your state. The course may even alert you to new laws that weren't in place when you first learned to drive. Your course will be 4 to 12 hours depending on your state's requirements.

Visit your state's defensive driving page to learn about the details of defensive driver education in your area. You'll learn more about your state's specific laws, requirements, and eligibility for taking defensive driving, how you can save on car insurance, get traffic tickets dismissed, reduce driver's license points, or get your driver's license reinstated.