Guide to Defensive Driving

Last Updated: March 16, 2021 |
Advertiser may receive compensation from the links you click on this site. This does not impact our reviews which remain our personal opinions and unbiased regardless of advertising you may see.

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 understand defensive driving techniques that can prevent accidents. But defensive driving courses are beneficial for many drivers, including:

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:

Defensive Driving Can Get You Out of a Ticket

There’s no mistaking the feeling of dread when you see flashing lights in your rearview 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:

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.

For example, New York State 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 retake the course 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. At the same time, 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 defensive driving basics 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.

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.

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.

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:

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:

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.