What Is Defensive Driving?

Defensive driving is a set of strategies that can help you stay safe on the road. Taking a defensive driving course could save you up to 10% on your car insurance.
Written by Amy Bobinger
Edited by Sarah Gray
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When you practice defensive driving, you can help reduce your chances of getting into a serious car accident—and safer driving could help you save up to 10% on your
car insurance
, depending on where you live.

What is defensive driving? 

Defensive driving refers to the techniques drivers use to reduce the risk of accidents. It’s an active set of driving practices that includes maintaining a safe following distance, scanning your surroundings, and remaining calm.
Most states offer courses where motorists can learn the basics of defensive driving. These courses have proven effective—the National Safety Council (NSC) found that drivers who complete a defensive driving course (DDC) see a 74% decrease in serious violations like at-fault collisions and serious traffic infractions.1 
In addition to helping you stay safe behind the wheel, defensive driving could help you save on your auto insurance:
  • Defensive driving can help you avoid rate hikes by helping you avoid accidents and traffic violations, like speeding tickets.
  • If approved by the court, taking a defensive driving course could help you get points off your driving record that might otherwise drive up your insurance premiums.
  • In some cases, taking a defensive driving course can earn you
    discounts on insurance premiums
    .

Defensive driving courses teach advanced road safety

One of the best ways to learn how to be a defensive driver is to take a defensive driver course. These courses typically last from 4–8 hours and may be offered online or in person. 
Unlike the basics taught in a drivers’ ed course, a defensive driving course is designed to teach advanced driver safety techniques, including how to:
  • Properly use the safety equipment in your car, like your seatbelt, child safety seats, and airbags 
  • Drive in various weather conditions, including heavy rain, high winds, and ice
  • Prevent crashes by scanning the road, maintaining a safe following distance, and reacting appropriately to hazards
  • Deal with physiological and psychological stressors like road rage, fatigue, and stress
  • Remain calm if you encounter unexpected hazards, road rage, or impaired drivers
Did you know? The first defensive driving course was created in 1964 after Congress chartered the National Safety Council (NSC). Since then, over 80 million people have taken the NSC’s course.2
After a traffic violation, courts sometimes give drivers the option to complete a defensive driving course to reduce fines or remove license points. But even if you haven’t received any violations, you can take a defensive driving class to get more confident behind the wheel.
Highlighticon
For more information about defensive driving courses in your state:
AL
AK
AR
CA
,
CO
DE
HI
ID
IA
KS
KY
ME
MD
MA
MI
MS
MO
NE
NV
ND
OH
OR
SC
TN
UT
WI

How to get a defensive driving discount

Some drivers can save as much as 15% on their insurance premiums for taking a defensive driver course. Usually, once you qualify for this discount, it will remain in effect for up to three years. 
Not all states offer defensive driving discounts, so if you’re planning to take a course to get a discount, call your insurance company and speak to an agent to be sure you’re eligible. Even in places where these discounts are available, many states restrict defensive driving discounts to senior drivers, and you may not be able to get a discount if the course was court-ordered or is part of an agreement to have points or fines reduced. 
Check with your insurance agent to learn about your specific requirements, including which driving schools are approved and how long the course should be. You can also ask how long the discount will last and whether you can take another defensive driving course to renew the discount.
To be eligible for a defensive driving discount, you must meet all of the following requirements for your state:
Requirement
States
Must be at least 50 years of age
AL, AK. AZ, AR, CA, CO*, CT, FL**, ID, IL, KS, KY†, LA, ME, MD, MN, MS, MO, MT††, NE, NV, NH, NM, OH, OR**, PA, RI, SD, TN, TX*, UT, WA, WV, WI, WY
Must be at least 55 years of age
IN, VA
Must take the course voluntarily (not court-ordered)
AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY
Can not have been involved in an at-fault accident or convicted of a traffic violation
AK, GA, ID, MS, MT, NV, TN
Do not have currently have a Driver Training discount
CT, MD, NH, RI, SC, TX
Are not required to carry an SR-22
KY, ND, SC, SD, TN
You (or other household members on the policy) do not have a suspended license
ME, TN
No restrictions
NY
Defensive driving discounts are not available
HI, MA, MI, NC, VT
*May vary by insurer; **55+ in some cases; † Or a member of the US Armed Forces who completed a course administered by the US Armed Forces; †† Or a member of the National Guard
Source:
GEICO
Many states also cap defensive driver discounts to a certain percentage of your premium:
Discount amount
States
Up to 5%
CA, IL, NJ, WI
Up to 10%
AK, AZ, CT, FL, GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, ME, MD, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NY, ND, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, WA, WV, WY
Up to 12%
MN
Up to 15%
AR, DE
Not specified
AL, CO, DC, IA, LA, NM, OH, OK, OR, PA, UT
*May vary by municipality
Even if you’re not eligible for a defensive driving discount, taking a course might still help you save on your insurance. The valuable skills you’ll learn behind the wheel can help you avoid tickets and accidents that might otherwise drive up your premiums.

Which insurance companies offer defensive driving discounts?

Your insurance company may have its own restrictions around defensive driving discounts. Because of the unique local restrictions surrounding these courses, it’s best to call and speak to your insurance agent before you sign up for a course. In general, though, here’s what you can expect from some major insurers:
Insurance company
Defensive driving discount
Doesn’t list a defensive driving discount on their website, but you may be able to get one in some states
Yes, in states where these discounts are available
Doesn’t list a defensive driving discount on their website, but you may be able to get one in some states
Doesn’t list a defensive driving discount on their website, but you may be able to get one in some states
Yes, in states where these discounts are availabl

Defensive driving tips

1. Get prepared before you start driving

Safe driving behaviors can start before you ever get in your car. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination, and keep an eye on the weather and traffic conditions in your area so you know if you need to leave early. 
Once you’re in your car, take a few moments to adjust your seat and mirrors, buckle your seatbelt, and make sure your passengers are buckled in safely. This is also a great time to choose a playlist for the drive so you don’t have to adjust your radio once you’re moving. Then, safely stow your phone or set it up for hands-free use.

2. Avoid distractions behind the wheel

Staying focused behind the wheel is one of the most important ways you can keep yourself and others safe. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving was a factor in 15% of all crash-related injuries in 2021.3 
When you stay present and attentive while you’re driving, it’s easier to spot potential hazards and respond calmly. To help keep your attention on the road, make sure you:
  • Use the hands-free setting on your cell phone or navigation device
  • Avoid eating or drinking while driving
  • Keep conversations with passengers minimal and calm
  • Avoid adjusting your stereo or infotainment system
Never drink and drive:

3. Stay in control while you’re driving

One of the most important ways to be a safer driver is to maintain a steady, reasonable speed at all times. The NHTSA reports that in 2021, speeding was a factor in 28% of all fatal crashes.4 When you’re driving too fast, you have less time to react if something unexpected happens, like if a car suddenly slams on brakes or an animal runs into the road.
And don’t just rely on the speed limit—if road conditions or visibility are poor, you can actually be ticketed for driving too fast, even if you’re following the speed limit. 
Here are more tips to help you maintain control behind the wheel: 
  • Follow the two-second rule: Keep a safe following distance and avoid tailgating by staying at least 2–3 seconds behind the motor vehicle ahead of you.
  • Use cruise control: This can help you maintain a safe speed—but stay attentive in case you need to slow down.
  • Understand your blind spots: Once you know where they are, monitor them carefully so you can merge or turn safely.
  • Make minor adjustments: Avoid jerking the wheel or slamming on your brakes.
  • Control your own emotions: Failure to remain calm while you’re driving can turn a minor irritation into a bout of
    road rage
    .

4. Scan the road for hazards so you can react quickly

Continuously scan about 12 seconds ahead of you as you drive to stay aware of oncoming dangers on the road. Also, periodically check your side and rearview mirrors to be sure you know what’s going on around you. 
By scanning the road ahead, you’ll be able to react quickly if you encounter things like:
  • Cars or pedestrians on the side of the road
  • Emergency vehicles
  • Potholes
  • Animals
  • Road debris
  • Objects falling off of cargo trucks
  • Changes in the speed limit
Don’t count on other motorists to make safe decisions. No matter how safe you are, you can’t control the actions of others. Pay close attention to other vehicles near you so you’ll be better prepared if they suddenly stop, swerve, or change lanes without signaling. 

5. Be a considerate driver

A big part of defensive driving involves being courteous to other drivers. Lack of consideration can lead to frustration and even road rage in other drivers, but these simple driving habits can help you avoid aggressive drivers and create a safer environment on the road: 
  • Use your turn signals.
  • Respect the right of way.
  • Give way to pedestrians.
  • Don’t block intersections.
  • Allow fast drivers to pass you.
  • Merge early when approaching a closed lane. 
  • Make way for emergency vehicles.
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FAQ

The recommended scanning time for defensive driving is 12 seconds. Scanning at least 12 seconds ahead of your driving position can help you avoid potential collisions and contribute to overall road safety.

What is the best defensive driving course online?

The
National Safety Council (NSC)
developed the first defensive driving classes in 1964, so any driver education offered by the NSC is a great bet.
Some of the top providers of online defensive driving courses include
IDriveSafely.com
,
DriversEd.com
, and
MyImprov Traffic School
. The course that is ultimately the best for you depends on how you learn and whether each provider offers courses in your state.

What is the insurance discount for defensive driving?

Not all insurance providers offer discounts for completing a defensive driving course, and those that do have unique qualifications and discount percentages. To find out how much completing a defensive driving course could lower your insurance costs, contact your insurance agent.

What is the meaning of defensive driving?

Defensive driving refers to the techniques drivers use to reduce the risk of accidents. It’s an active set of skills that includes things like maintaining a safe following distance, scanning your surroundings, and remaining calm.

What are the 3 basic principles of defensive driving?

Most defensive driving courses focus on three main principles: anticipation and planning, proper vehicle positioning in relation to other cars on the road (like following distance), and proper speed control.

What is the difference between defensive and offensive driving?

Defensive driving techniques help ensure your own and other drivers’ safety. Offensive driving is aggressive driving without regard for other road users or traffic laws, which is the opposite of being a good defensive driver.  

What is the IPDE defensive driving formula?

The IPDE (Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute) defensive driving formula is used in many driver’s education classes. It refers to a set of strategies in which motorists identify potential threats when driving, predict the results of an encounter with those threats, decide what actions in response to the threats will result in the least risk, and then execute those actions.

Meet our experts

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Amy Bobinger
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Licensed Insurance Agent — Expert Insurance Editor
Expert insurance writer and editor Amy Bobinger specializes in car repair, car maintenance, and car insurance. Amy is passionate about creating content that helps consumers navigate challenges related to car ownership and achieve financial success in areas relating to cars.
Amy has over 10 years of writing and editing experience. After several years as a freelance writer, Amy spent four years as an editing fellow at WikiHow, where she co-authored over 600 articles on topics including car maintenance and home ownership. Since joining Jerry’s editorial team in 2022, Amy has edited over 2,500 articles on car insurance, state driving laws, and car repair and maintenance.
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Sarah Gray
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Licensed Insurance Agent — Expert Insurance Writer and Editor
Sarah Gray is an insurance writer with nearly a decade of experience in publishing and writing. Sarah specializes in writing articles that educate car owners and buyers on the full scope of car ownership—from shopping for and buying a new car to scrapping one that’s breathed its last and everything in between. Sarah has authored over 1,500 articles for Jerry on topics ranging from first-time buyer programs to how to get a salvage title for a totaled car.
Prior to joining Jerry, Sarah was a full-time professor of English literature and composition with multiple academic writing publications.

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