What is a Defensive Driving Course?

A defensive driving course teaches people how to operate their vehicles in a manner that avoids accidents. Many people are interested in taking defensive driving classes because a course can improve your driving record and lower your monthly premiums. Scroll down to learn how to save money with a defensive driving course and start shopping for cheaper rates with our free quote comparison tool below.

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Tonya Sisler has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Carolina in Journalism and has worked for 15+ years in management. She has also completed a proofreading certification and is currently a professional writer.

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Brad Larson has been in the insurance industry for more than a dozen years. He started out as a claims adjuster for a national carrier. He has since switched to the agency side of the business. Brad is licensed in all P&C lines.

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Reviewed by Brad Larsen
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Nov 17, 2020

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The roads have become safer for all drivers, with accident rates continuing to drop each year due to improved safety features in vehicles. However, traffic fatalities are not a thing of the past yet, with almost 34,000 individuals killed in traffic accidents in 2009 alone. Defensive driving is a skill that can save lives. Avoiding other dangerous or impaired drivers is an important part of defensive driving, and in 2007, 32% of all fatal crashes involved drivers who had been drinking. Motorcycle riders also benefit from learning how to operate their motorcycle defensively. In 2009 4,500 motorcycle riders were killed in traffic accidents.

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Defensive driving classes can serve a few different purposes. Many people are interested in taking them because of a potential reduction of car insurance premiums. The other, arguably more important benefit is the valuable knowledge drivers gain to avoid expensive traffic tickets and implement improved driving habits on the road, making streets and highways safer for everyone.


Defensive driving courses originated from classes launched back in 1964 through the National Safety Council. The classes originally provided instruction for professional drivers, and have since been made available to all drivers.

Course Description

Defensive driving instruction teaches people to operate their vehicle in a manner that avoids accidents, no matter how bad driving conditions are, or how erratic other drivers might behave. The courses go deeper than just covering traffic laws. They discuss things like the law of physics in different scenarios as it applies to moving vehicles. They also analyze different choices a driver can make in tough driving situations, and the related consequences.

For Young Drivers

Defensive driving classes may be especially useful for young drivers. In addition to reducing insurance rates, the course can help younger drivers gain a deeper awareness of the dangers inherent in driving and cause them to operate a vehicle more carefully. The National Safety Council not only provides online courses, but also DVD courses as well as the regular Training Center courses. Younger individuals represent the highest fatality group for auto accidents, making a one-time class fee a small but worthwhile investment.

For Older Drivers

Mature drivers can take a defensive driving course to reduce insurance premiums. These programs are typically designed for drivers who are age 55 and up. The American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP, offers an online defensive driving program priced at $19.95 for nonmembers. Interested drivers should contact their car insurance provider first and discuss potential insurance reductions before signing up, if this is the only reason they would like to take a defensive driving class.

Online Courses

An online course is available from the National Safety Council. This is a defensive driving course that was put together using the same content from the council’s regular in-person defensive driving instruction, the most widely attended defensive driving program in the nation. The online program provides users with an attractive, engaging learning environment, allowing students to analyze several real driver situations; spot hazards that occur when driving, and identify defenses correctly. Drivers receive an official completion certificate from the National Safety Council that may be used in many states to reduce car insurance rates. Online courses involve studying as well as doing coursework on the computer, and may take 6 to 8 hours to complete.

Classroom Courses

Instructors work in the classroom with the aid of videos to teach courses. After going through all the material in the course, students must take an exam at the end. Any student who does not pass the exam has the option to retake it.

Driving Lessons

Some of the topics covered in a defensive driving course include signaling, following, headlights, weather, slick roads and distractions. Drivers learn that turn signals are used to make other drivers aware, rather than being for the benefit of the driver himself. Signaling shows what the driver is intending to do, giving other drivers a chance to act accordingly and stay aware.

Following cars is another topic covered, and students are taught how to use landmarks to measure the distance between them and the car front of them. They also learn the ideal amount of space to leave between them and another driver. Headlights are covered, since they do not just get used at night. Basically, at dusk or dawn, in any inclement weather, or whenever windshield wipers are on, headlights should be on.

Drivers also learn how to adjust their driving according to the condition of the weather. Foggy weather requires low beam headlights or fog lights, slow driving and increased time to stop in case a pedestrian, animal or car seems to appear out of nowhere. Slick roads present a challenge for drivers when ice or water causes hydroplaning. Defensive driving teaches people how to steer the vehicle in order to straighten the car out, regain control and avoid hitting another car or obstacle. Distractions, such as cell phones, eating or the radio are another important topic that is discussed in the course, since distracted driving accounts for a large, and growing, proportion of traffic accidents.

How a Defensive Driving Course can help with lower car insurance rates

Defensive driving classes do not act as a substitute for going to traffic school. For drivers who have received a ticket or other moving violation, traffic school must be attended to keep a point from hitting their driving record. Check defensive driving schools, though, since many classroom and online programs also offer traffic school. Additionally, before signing up for a course, check to make sure the court system that oversees the ticket allows for online traffic school, since not all court systems do.

Once the defensive driving course has been completed, the school will mail a certificate directly to the driver’s home address. The insurance company will need a copy of the certificate mailed to them in order to provide a discount on car insurance premiums.

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