While some say defensive driving is learned through experience and awareness, courses offered around the country teach drivers in as little as a day to master roadway techniques. Successful completion of a defensive driving course can bring significant discounts on car insurance premiums in some states, but driving defensively can minimize your risk of an accident wherever you are.
Discounts available in some states
Drivers usually take defensive driving courses because they’re required to by a court because of a traffic citation or because they want a discount on their insurance. Although courses are available in every state, many insurers give discounts only for completion of a class where it is mandated by state law. Those states include Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.
Discounts can range from 10 percent to 20 percent on basic liability premiums.
“There are some insurance companies that give the discount regardless of whether the state mandates it or not because they have seen what a difference it makes,” said James Solomon, director of program development and training for the National Safety Council's defensive driving program.
Defensive driving courses typically cost between $50 and $125. They typically last four hours, sometimes longer in a few states. Classes cover such things as crash avoidance, skid recovery, aggressive driving, distracted driving, speeding, tailgating and passing. Instructors go over proper driving techniques, and demonstrate through video and workbook exercises.
Car insurers, policyholders differ on benefits
While Solomon and those in the industry say defensive driving classes make for safer drivers, not all car insurance companies agree. Dick Luedke, a spokesman for State Farm, says the company has not found any evidence that defensive driving classes result in fewer claims. While the company does offer discounts where mandated by state law, Luedke says the real discounts from defensive driving come from going long periods of time without an accident. That means drivers must do more than take a class in defensive driving -- they must prove through example that they can drive defensively.
“Defensive driving is more about non-distracted driving,” Luedke says.
Steve Soldis is CEO of Trafficschoolonline.com, a driver improvement company that offers classes in 13 states. More than 90 percent of the company's students take the courses to avoid having a ticket show up on their insurance record. In many jurisdictions, courts allow first-time offenders the option to take a class. Upon successful completion, the record of the citation is not released to car insurance companies.
“It’s a way for people to avoid getting points on their driving record. It satisfies a court requirement and can prevent a rise in their insurance rates,” Soldis says.
Driving defensively pays off
Regardless of whether a driver receives a discount or avoids having points placed on their record, experts agree that defensive driving always pays off. When a driver receives fewer citations and gets in fewer accidents, that always will result in lower car insurance premiums.
Soldis says his company's program was designed by a clinical psychologist with the primary objective of altering drivers' behavior. Whereas some courses simply “regurgitate” a driver’s handbook, Soldis says his program highlights defensive driving tactics. That includes a section called "Perceive, Predict and Perform," which teaches drivers how to react to changes and possible dangerous maneuvers from other drivers.
"A good program teaches you not only how to drive properly but to put yourself in a position where you are not as vulnerable to get into an accident," Soldis says.
A history of accidents, even if the driver was not at fault, can cause a spike in car insurance premiums. More than one accident every couple of years also can cause an insurer to raise its eyebrows and label you a riskier driver. Soldis says drivers can obey all the laws of the road yet still operate their cars in a way that makes them more prone to accidents. Examples include driving too slow, driving alongside other vehicles for extended periods of time and driving in another motorist's blind spot.
"If a driver is frequently getting into (no-fault) accidents, I would still imagine they're driving in some kind of manner that puts them at higher risk. Something they are doing is likely getting them in trouble," Soldis says.