What’s the Point of Defensive Driving Courses?

 Defensive driving courses aim to improve driving habits.

Driving into Chicago on the highway with the Sear's Tower in the background.
Tony Markovich

All people on the road are worse drivers than they think they are. Whether it’s following the car ahead too closely, forgetting to set turn signals, driving too slowly, or passing cars on the highway in the wrong lane, everybody has their faults. Defensive driving courses aim to fix those faults and improve their students’ driving manners.

There are a few route options that can take a person to a defensive driving course, some voluntary and others lesser so. Sometimes taking the course can save you money, other times it can save your license. Sometimes it’s for a fleet job, other times it’s on the driver’s own personal volition. 

Cars and motorcycles in traffic on a highway.
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Regardless of the situation, defensive driving courses provide information and knowledge about driving in the real world to arm people with the skills they need to better avoid risks and accidents. If defensive driving courses have piqued your interest, or you know you want to or have to take one, it’s best to know what you’re getting into, so The Drive put together a helpful guide to explain what they are and why they exist. 

Let’s get started.

What Is Defensive Driving?

The basic idea of defensive driving is using your knowledge and understanding of the rules and risks of the road to proactively protect yourself to help prevent accidents rather than reacting to dangerous situations when they arise.

What Is a Defensive Driving Course?

A defensive driving course is an extracurricular class in which the students learn basic defensive driving skills as a way to improve their driving habits. In some cases the course is voluntary, sometimes it’s required for a job, or other times the course is part of a legal course of action due to a prior event. Defensive driving courses are offered through a host of schools like Skip Barber Racing School, Improv, BestTrafficSchool.com, Traffic101.com, and Radford Racing School, though there are hundreds to choose from around the country. The easiest way to find one that's located near you is through a quick Google search.

Why Take a Defensive Driving Course? 

The primary reasons people take defensive driving courses include: 

  • Remedying a traffic ticket or infraction
  • To avoid suspension of your driver’s license
  • Reducing and/or avoiding an increase to car insurance payments
  • To reduce insurance premiums
  • As part of training for a fleet job
  • General interest in improving driving habits
A silver Toyota Prius stops behind a Peugeot at a busy city intersection.
Depositphotos

Defensive driving courses teach people to share the road with cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Are Defensive Driving Courses Required by Law?

To the common person, no, defensive driving courses are not required. However, depending on where you live, your state might require a person to take defensive driving courses to avoid suspension of a driver’s license, to avoid a traffic ticket, or as part of some other legal ramifications of a driving ticket or infraction. 

Common Topics Covered in Defensive Driving Courses

In general, defensive driving courses teach students the basics of defensive driving, review state and federal laws, and offer advice for how to better handle sharing the road with other vehicles, motorcycles, cyclists, and pedestrians. They discuss topics such as following distances, blind spots, driving in inclement weather, driving at night, driving on the highway, and much more. 

Below, we have laid out the first two session outlines of a defensive driving course from the National Safety Council’s (NSC) Safety Serve online class.

Session 1

  • Recognize that driver safety affects everyone
  • Identify your personal driving behaviors and tendencies
  • Recognize that every behavior is a choice
  • Define risky driving behaviors
  • Identify the Six Deadly Choices that lead to the majority of crashes
  • Identify what’s in your control
  • Explain how to drive defensively in conditions beyond your control

Session 2

  • Define defensive driving, collision prevention and NSC’s collision prevention formula
  • Identify defensive driving techniques that can be used when physical, mental and emotional factors affect your ability to drive
  • Recognize potential hazards when driving and use the ‘What-if’ strategy to avoid hazards
  • Identify the risks associated with driving without seat belts or proper restraints
  • Identify how to effectively use vehicle safety systems

For more information and the full eight-session outline about the NSC’s defensive driving course, visit Safety Serve.

How Much Do Defensive Driving Courses Cost?

The NSC’s basic four-hour course costs about $50, but that cost will change depending on where you live and which services you are using. Expect somewhere in the range of $20-100.

How Defensive Driving Courses Relate to Car Insurance?

Some insurance companies offer the ability to earn a discount by taking a defensive driving course. This not only helps improve your driving, it also shows that you show care and attention to your driving habits. For that, the insurance provider might offer a 10-20 percent discount, depending on the provider. Not all insurance companies will do this, however.

Spaced-out cars on a three-lane highway.
Depositphotos

Defensive driving courses teach people proper following distances and best highway practices.

Video

Learn more from this preview about what is taught in defensive driving training. 

FAQs about Defensive Driving

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!

Q: Are all defensive driving courses the same?

A: No, they are not. In some cases, a certain course might be able to get you an insurance discount, but it might not be able to help you with ticket dismissal or other purposes. Always do your research and check if a class applies to your specific situation and purpose before paying for and taking the course.

Q: How long does a defensive driving course take?

A: In many cases, a defensive driving course will only take a few hours. The NSC course is roughly four hours, but other longer or shorter courses also exist.

Q: Is real-world driving practiced in a defensive driving course?

A: It’s possible, as every state and course is different, but it’s unlikely. 

Q: Where do defensive driving courses take place?

A: Many defensive driving courses are offered through simple online curriculum, but it’s also possible to take them in a classroom setting at a driving school.

Q: What are the six deadly choices discussed in defensive driving courses?

A: A majority of accidents occur because of six primary decisions people make. Those include speeding, violating the right of way, distracted driving, turning improperly, and driving left of center.