Defensive Driving 101

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While the term can vary from state to state, defensive driving is both a style of driving and a type of safety course drivers can take. Here we've outlined a few tips and techniques to better help you understand what defensive driving is and how it can benefit you.

What Is Defensive Driving?

Driving Techniques

“Defensive driving" is not just a catch phrase for ticket dismissal or point reduction courses. It is also a safe driving technique that all drivers should use.

Driving defensively includes:

  • Looking ahead and expecting the unexpected.
  • Controlling your speed.
  • Maintaining a safe following distance.
  • Preparedness for the reactions of other drivers.
  • Driving safely for weather and/or road conditions.
  • Being alert and distraction free.
  • Watching and respecting other drivers.

Safety Course

Additionally, many traffic school courses are referred to as defensive driving courses. This stems from the defensive driving component included in the course curriculum. Some courses many focus primarily on these driving techniques, while others may focus more heavily on your state's road regulations, traffic laws, and street signs. Defensive driving courses may also—depending on your court and state of residence—help you avoid certain repercussions associated with traffic violations.

Defensive Driving Course Benefits

By taking a defensive driving course, not only will you be better prepared behind the wheel; you may also reap some financial benefits. These benefits can vary from state to state, but may include the following:

  • Reduction in fines associated with a traffic ticket.
  • Offsetting ticket points on your driving record.
  • An insurance rate reduction.
  • Prevention or reinstatement of a suspended driver's license.
    • This often has many other requirements than simply taking a defensive driving course; please visit our section on suspended licenses for more.

For a deeper look, please see our guide to the benefits of defensive driving.

How to Find & Take a Course

Defensive driving courses can typically be taken either online or in a classroom. The acceptable format(s) varies by state.

You can find defensive driving courses in two ways:

  • Do an online search for approved courses in your state.
  • Call your traffic court or driver licensing agency for requirements and approved courses.
  • Refer to any paperwork you may have received after committing a traffic violation.
    • Sometimes counties or cities will mail out sheets with instructions and traffic school options.

Courses can vary in price. If you're planning on using your course completion to improve your driving record or reduce your insurance rates, be sure you research how your course operator delivers your certificate of completion. Some states also require a copy of your driving record, so make sure you know all the steps and how to execute them.

Online vs. Classroom Courses

Taking an online course versus taking a course in a classroom setting depends on both your state's allowances and your personal preferences. There are pros and cons to each. Consider the following when choosing the right course for you.

Online Course

Pros:

  • You can take it at your convenience, at any time and place that suits you.
  • You can usually start and stop the course at your leisure.
  • You can typically pace the course to match your learning style.
  • You can replay a section if you don't understand what was covered.
  • You can adjust visual and audio settings to your needs.

Cons:

  • You may not have prompt responses to questions.
  • You may still be required to take the course within a specified timeframe.
  • Visual or oral aids may be difficult on various devices depending on the course.
  • You will not have an instructor to explain elements or instructions in more detail, should you need it.
  • You're at the mercy of your Internet connection and reliability of the device you're studying on.

Classroom Course

Pros:

  • You'll have direct access to an instructor for questions and thorough explanations.
  • You'll likely have multiple visual aids in differing formats (video, worksheet handouts, posters, etc.).
  • You'll be sharing the room with other drivers you may learn and receive support from.
  • You'll have a structured learning environment, which some students find very helpful.

Cons:

  • You'll need to dedicate an entire block of time to your course.
  • You'll need to ensure you have transportation (which is difficult if you have a suspended license).
  • Breaks usually come only at specified times.
  • Your instructor must complete the course within a time frame, so they may not have time to repeat entire sections or questions.
  • You don't have the opportunity to study at your preferred pace, should it differ from the instructor's.

No matter what type of course you take, defensive driving is a great way to brush up on your skills behind the wheel. For detailed state-specific information, visit our section on defensive driving and traffic school.

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