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Guide to Defensive Driving Courses and Insurance Discounts

By Kim Franke-Folstad · September 12, 2022 · 6 minute read

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Guide to Defensive Driving Courses and Insurance Discounts

Defensive driving courses aren’t just for motorists hoping to shave points off their driving record. For some people — especially teens and seniors — taking a defensive driving class can earn them discounts on their car insurance premiums.

But what is defensive driving? In this guide, we’ll look at what these courses have to offer, who might benefit from them, and what kind of insurance discounts may be available to course participants.

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What Is a Defensive Driving Course?

It isn’t the same thing as driver’s ed. In defensive driving, drivers learn strategies specifically designed to keep them safer on the road.

Experienced drivers can think of it as a refresher course or a tune-up of the skills they already have. They may even learn that some traffic laws are different from when they first got their license. New drivers, meanwhile, can pick up strategies that reinforce and improve on what they recently learned, with a focus on staying alert to potential hazards.

Drivers often take a defensive driving course (sometimes referred to as “traffic school”) to remove violation points from their driving record and keep their insurance costs from going up. Other drivers may be able to use a defensive driving course to lower their car insurance costs.

These days, anything that offsets high gas prices and car maintenance costs is welcome.

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Who Is Eligible for a Defensive Driver Training Discount?

Eligibility requirements for a defensive driver training discount vary from one insurance company to the next, and from state to state. Insurers may limit discounts to older drivers (starting at age 50 or 55), but some make discounts available to drivers younger than 25.

Many people sit down for a personal insurance planning session once a year. That’s a great time to ask your insurance agent if there’s a defensive driver discount you might qualify for. Or check the list of available discounts on your insurer’s website.

An insurer may want you to take a particular driving course that it has pre-approved. If you’re looking for a discount, be sure you’re familiar with all the requirements before signing up for a class. As anyone familiar with how car insurance works can tell you, it pays to read the fine print.

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Defensive Driving Insurance Discount Exclusions

Don’t count on getting a discount if you’re taking a court-ordered defensive driving course or hope to have points removed from your driving record. Taking a defensive driving class can help keep your premiums from increasing (and/or lower your fine) if you got a ticket, but you probably won’t see an additional reduction.

Your age can also exclude you from receiving a discount. Some states require insurers to offer discounts to older drivers who take a course. But if it isn’t state-mandated, a company may not offer this discount to any of its customers, regardless of age or driving experience.

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How Much Can You Save with a Defensive Driving Insurance Discount?

Defensive driving discounts can vary depending on the state you’re in and the insurance company you choose. But generally, if an insurer offers a discount, it’s between 5% and 20%, and typically lasts two to three years.

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How Can You Renew a Defensive Driving Insurance Discount?

Be sure to find out how long your discount will stay in effect and mark that anniversary on your calendar. You’ll have to take another defensive driving course before that time is up, or you may lose your discount and your premiums could increase.

What Happens in a Defensive Driver Training Class?

Defensive driving is generally defined as using skills that can help minimize risk and avert car accidents. The focus in a defensive driving course is your safety — and that of your passengers and the people (and critters) on the roads you travel.

State course requirements vary, but you can expect the class to last about six to 10 hours and cover topics like speeding, common distractions, anger management, reaction times, driving under the influence, crash prevention, passing and parking techniques, and your state’s traffic laws.

And yes, there will be a test. It might be a comprehensive final exam or quizzes on each separate unit, but you’ll have to pass to complete the course.

Online vs In-person Driver Training Classes

Defensive driver courses are available in-person or online, so you can choose the style that suits you best. Some states and insurance companies require you to take a specific pre-approved class to get a discount (or points removed), so if that’s your goal, make sure you’re meeting those requirements.

Beyond that, it’s really a matter of preference. There are pros and cons to both types of classes. Taking an online course offers convenience and flexibility: You can take the class whenever it works for your schedule. And an online course may be less expensive. But with an in-person class you may be able to engage with the instructor and your classmates in a way that makes the information more meaningful — and memorable.

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Why Take a Defensive Driving Course?

There are a few good reasons why someone might take a defensive driving course:

•   Earn an insurance discount. Even with just a 10% discount every month for three years, the savings can be significant.

•   Improve driving skills. If you’re a newbie behind the wheel, you may learn some techniques and behaviors that can help keep you safe. And if you’ve been driving for decades, you might be surprised at what you’ve forgotten — or never learned.

•   Shave points from your record. Taking a class may reduce the cost of a traffic ticket or remove points from your record. And that can keep your insurance premiums from increasing. (Each insurance company has its own method for deciding how your driving record affects your rate.)

•   Because you have to. If you’re convicted of a DUI or another serious offense, your course may be court-ordered.

Car Insurance Companies That Offer Defensive Driving Discounts

Many traditional and online insurance companies offer defensive driving discounts, but the eligibility requirements and discount amount vary by state. Here’s a look at what some insurers offer:

Car Insurance Co.

Advertised Discount

Eligibility

Allstate Around 10%, but varies by state Teens who participate in the teenSMART program.
American Family 5%-10% Drivers under 21.
Geico Up to 20% All ages.
The Hartford Varies by state Drivers under 21 (under 25 in Georgia).
Liberty Mutual 5%-10% Drivers 20 and younger.
Met Life Up to 7% All ages, but driver must be licensed for at least 2 years.

States that Offer Defensive Driving Discounts

Some states encourage or mandate insurance discounts for motorists who take a defensive driving course. Here’s what’s available across the country:

California

Older drivers can qualify for reduced insurance premiums after successfully completing an approved course. California law allows insurers to determine the reduction amount. Customers with a poor driving record can be refused the discount.

Delaware

Drivers who complete a Delaware DMV-approved course are eligible to receive an insurance discount of up to 10% for three years. If they take a refresher course within 180 days of the end of that period, they may be eligible to receive a discount of up to 15% for the next three years.

Florida

Florida drivers 55 and older can qualify for a discount of up to 10% a year for three years. The state’s mandated discount applies to all insurance companies; contact your insurance agent for your discount amount and eligibility requirements.

New Jersey

New Jersey drivers who complete a defensive driving course approved by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission can receive a discount that applies for up to three years. The discount does not apply to the state’s Driver Improvement Plan (DIP) or Probationary Driver Program (PDP) course.

New York

The state of New York has a mandatory three-year, 10% insurance discount for motorists who complete a defensive driving course.

Texas

Texas does not require insurers to provide a defensive driving course discount, but many insurers in the state do offer them for motorists who take a state-approved class.

Virginia

Insurance providers in Virginia must offer a discounted rate to drivers who complete an approved driving course. The discount period for Virginians who are 55 and older is three years; for those 54 and younger, it’s two years.

The Takeaway

Defensive driving courses can be a (relatively) painless way to get a discount on your auto insurance premiums of between 5% and 20%. And it could make you a better, safer driver. But before you sign up for a class, make sure it’s approved by the state and/or your insurer. Most insurance companies offer several different types of discounts to customers, so if you’re looking to lower your premiums, shop around and compare auto insurance quotes.

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FAQ

Is an advanced driving course worth it?

Defensive driving courses typically cost $25-$100. If you can get an insurance discount for taking a class, you might be able to make that back in savings in less than a year. And many defensive driving course discounts are good for two or three years after taking a class. Another plus: You’ll likely come away with some improved driving skills.

Does a defensive driving course lower insurance in California?

Yes, older drivers in California can qualify for reduced insurance premiums after successfully completing a state-approved defensive driving course.

How hard is the advanced driving test?

If you pay attention in class, your defensive driving exam (or unit quizzes) shouldn’t be too difficult. But if you’re concerned, there are practice tests available online that can give you an idea of what a test might look like.


Photo credit: iStock/ljubaphoto

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