What Is a Defensive Driving Course and How Do You Enroll in One?

Defensive driving courses teach safer driving habits and offer potential opportunities for discounts and points reduction.

Kevin Payne
Written byKevin Payne
Kevin Payne
Kevin Payne
  • 5+ years writing insurance, travel, and personal finance content

  • Founder of FamilyMoney Adventure blog

Kevin is a seasoned writer who leverages his love of budgeting and all things personal finance to create informative, thoroughly researched insurance and money content.

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Katie Powers
Edited byKatie Powers
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Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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Updated June 12, 2023

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Defensive driving courses are educational programs aimed at teaching motorists safer driving habits. These courses may improve your ability to anticipate problems and make better decisions on the road. Some insurance companies will provide a discount on your car insurance premium for completing an approved defensive driving course.

If you’ve recently been involved in traffic infractions, you can sometimes keep points off your record by completing a defensive driving course. In some cases, state law or a court order may require you to complete a defensive driving course in order to keep your license. 

Here’s what you need to know about defensive driving courses, when one might be required, and where to take one. 

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What is a defensive driving course?

As a learning tool, defensive driving courses help you make better decisions, anticipate other drivers’ mistakes, and adjust your driving to avoid accidents. Sometimes referred to as driver improvement courses, these courses are available through defensive driving schools and safety organizations. Courses may include several hours of online and in-person classes, as well as driving lessons in your vehicle.[1]

Good to know

The cost of defensive driving courses varies depending on the format, state requirements, and other factors. You can find online courses for as little as $25 to $50, while in-person classes can cost $100 or more.

Common defensive driving principles and topics

Defensive driving courses may look slightly different depending on the course format and intended purpose. Most courses include lessons on these common driving topics:

  • Accident anticipation and prevention: Helps you learn how to avoid or respond to reckless driving by other motorists and hazardous conditions

  • Distraction minimization: Teaches you ways to reduce or eliminate distractions while operating a motor vehicle

  • Effective use of mirrors and signals: Discusses how to use your vehicle’s mirrors and signals to improve driving skills, communicate with other drivers, and prevent accidents

  • Federal and state traffic rules and laws: Helps you gain a better understanding of traffic guidelines in the U.S. and your state

  • Awareness and space on the road: Instructs you how to navigate traffic lanes and lane changes properly

  • Adjusting speed based on surroundings: Gives you knowledge on how to manage your vehicle’s speed in various driving conditions

  • Psychological factors of driving: Provides information on how to navigate psychological factors while driving, including stress, fatigue, distress, and road rage

  • Safety equipment overview: Helps you understand your vehicle’s safety features, including airbags, seat belts, headrests, and child safety seats

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Benefits of defensive driving courses

The benefits you may receive from completing a defensive driving course may outweigh the actual cost of the course. 

Here are some ways taking a defensive driving course can help you:

  • Score discounts and decreased rates: Insurance companies often give customers vehicle insurance discounts or rate reductions for completing an approved defensive driving course.[2] Auto insurers that offer these discounts include GEICO, Nationwide, and State Farm.

  • Reduce points: Traffic violations can lead to points on your license and a higher-risk driving record. Some states allow you to deduct points by completing a defensive driving course.

  • Dismiss traffic tickets: Some states will dismiss traffic tickets if you take defensive driving classes through an approved vendor. Check requirements in your state to determine if your state allows this, and identify which courses can help you get tickets dismissed.

  • Learn or refresh driving knowledge: In addition to monetary benefits like discounts, these courses can improve your driving knowledge and skills to create a safer driving environment for you and other drivers you encounter.

When are defensive driving courses required?

Insurance discounts aren’t the only reason you may need to take defensive driving classes. In some cases, you may be required to complete a program as a traffic violation penalty or as a necessary step  to reinstate your driver’s license.

Here are some scenarios where state law or the courts might require you to complete a defensive driving course.

By the state

Some states may require you to take defensive driving classes to reinstate your driver’s license following a license suspension or revocation, or a specific moving violation conviction. For example, Oregon drivers convicted of driving while using a mobile device must complete an approved distracted driving avoidance course.

States that require drivers to complete a distracted driving course include: 

Connecticut

Florida

Illinois

Indiana

Massachusetts

Michigan

Nebraska

New Jersey

New York

Ohio

Oregon

Virginia

By the court

If you have serious traffic violations, a court may require you to complete a defensive driving course to keep your driver’s license. Some insurance companies may not give you a defensive driving discount if your attendance is court-mandated. Course length and requirements may vary depending on the state.

Defensive driving course options

Choosing a defensive driving course depends on your needs. Factors to consider in your decision include cost, course length, teaching methods, and state or insurance provider requirements.

Where to take your course

You can find online or in-person defensive driving courses through the following organizations and companies, though you may be able to find other available options: 

  • National Safety Council: The National Safety Council (NSC) offered the first defensive driver course in the U.S. in 1964. The NSC offers several driving courses to meet court mandates and state requirements. It also offers programs for employers who want to provide training for their employees. Classes are available online or in person through authorized training providers.

  • I Drive Safely: The online driver safety company offers highly rated defensive driving courses to meet state and other requirements. Format and pricing vary based on location.

  • American Safety Council: The American Safety Council offers state-approved online driving courses for new drivers, older drivers, and other motorists. Drivers can take courses that will help them dismiss traffic tickets, reinstate their driver’s license, or reduce insurance rates.

  • DefensiveDriving.com: DefensiveDriving.com is known for offering the shortest courses each state allows. The company even offers mobile-friendly online courses. Also, you can switch usage from one computer to another or a mobile device while keeping your progress in the class.

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Defensive driving course FAQs

Here are answers to common questions about defensive driving courses.

  • What are the requirements for defensive driving?

    Defensive driving courses often include lessons on hazard recognition, vehicle safety features, lane and speed management, dealing with impaired drivers, avoiding collisions, eliminating risky driving habits, and driving in poor weather conditions.

  • How much does it cost to take a defensive driving course?

    Defensive driving courses can cost between $25 and $50 or higher, depending on the format, provider, state, and other factors.

  • Is taking a defensive driving course worth the money?

    A defensive driving course can help protect you on the road through improved driving skills and anticipation. You may also qualify for a discount through your insurance provider if you have a clean driving record. Most courses cost less than $100, with many falling under $30, so the potential benefits likely outweigh any monetary cost of taking classes.

  • Do defensive driving courses reduce car accidents?

    Defensive driving courses may or may not reduce car accidents, but it’s always good to take steps to improve your driving skills and learn how to react to various daily driving situations. Drivers should want to practice safe driving habits, and taking defensive driving classes serves as an excellent tool to reach that goal.

  • What states require defensive driving courses?

    States that require some level of defensive driving to either qualify or re-instate a driver’s license include Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Virginia.

Sources

  1. National Safety Council. "Online Defensive Driving Courses." Accessed February 24, 2023
  2. Insurance Information Institute. "How to Save Money on Car Insurance." Accessed February 24, 2023
Kevin Payne
Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne is a freelance writer and family travel and budget enthusiast behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com. His work has been featured in Forbes Advisor, CreditCards.com, Bankrate, SlickDeals, Finance Buzz, The Ascent, Student Loan Planner, and more. Kevin lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and four teenagers.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
Photo of an Insurify author
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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