Will Defensive Driving Reduce Your Insurance Rates? If So, By How Much?

If you've been driving for a long period of time, you're probably familiar with the concept of defensive driving. In the broadest sense, "defensive driving" describes a cautious driving philosophy that takes into account the potential for other drivers to engage in reckless behavior. In addition to abiding by all pertinent traffic laws and following generally-accepted right-of-way rules, defensive drivers tend to avoid accidents by yielding to other drivers in high-risk situations. They also travel at or below the posted speed limits and take precautions during bouts of inclement weather. As such, defensive drivers tend to be involved in far fewer accidents than their more aggressive peers.

"Defensive driving" may also describe the various private and state-sponsored programs that teach the theory and application of defensive driving. Defensive driving classes cover a range of topics, including proper yielding procedures, lesser-known driving laws, post-accident protocols and drunk-driver detection. Most courses meet one or two nights per week and last for several months. Some can be taken online as well. While many are offered by for-profit companies, all defensive driving courses are required by law to cover certain procedures, regulations and protocols. For-profit driving schools that provide defensive driving classes must obtain renewable licenses from their state's motor vehicle bureau.

Although these programs resemble continuing-education courses, most participants are compelled to take them. For some "non-voluntary" participants, defensive driving classes may be a required part of a DUI or reckless-driving sentence. Others may take defensive driving classes at the behest of their insurers. In fact, many insurance companies hold out the promise of significant post-completion discounts to their policyholders. These may be issued in tandem with discounts for long periods of accident-free or citation-free driving.

These discounts vary widely and may be contingent on certain other benchmarks. For instance, some insurance companies may not offer defensive driving discounts to policyholders who haven't been convicted of a serious driving offense. If your insurance provider adheres to this policy, you may be caught in a conundrum: You can't lower your policy's cost without being convicted of a costly offense.

Unfortunately, any defensive driving discount is likely to be small relative to the final cost of a DUI or reckless driving charge. Few insurers' defensive driving discounts amount to more than 5 or 10 percent of the total cost of the policies that they issue. As such, you should look for providers that offer other discounts as well.

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