Pick up an auto insurance discount through a defensive driving course

By Jeffrey Steele on March 11th, 2011

It is a verifiable fact that defensive driving courses can save vehicle owners money on car insurance. That defensive driving courses help make motorists safer drivers is not so cut and dry, and experts differ on whether the courses spur safer driving.

Why do defensive driving courses save money on auto insurance?

According to James A. Solomon, defensive driving courses program development and training director for the Itasca, Ill.-based National Safety Council, studies show that drivers who have had the training are less likely to be in a crash, and are less likely to be involved in an extensive one if they are in an accident.

Car insurance discounts resulting from defensive driving classes tend to be 10 percent, though car owners can sometimes reap greater insurance discounts says Solomon. Generally, auto insurance discounts last three years after taking the exam. After three years, courses must be repeated to maintain the discount.

Course curriculum from the National Safety Council

The National Safety Council was the first organization to offer defensive driving courses, starting in 1964. More than 9,200 defensive driving course instructors are certified by the National Safety Council worldwide, and they are employed by more than 1,200 organizations that have agreements with the organization to teach its programs.

Three National Safety Council programs exist:

1. Classroom-based

2. Online-based

3. Self-instruction programs.

Different states have different curricula. "New York, Texas, Virginia, Ohio and Florida each took our defensive driving course, and modified it to incorporate state laws or statistics," Solomon says, adding that the National Safety Council teaches its instructors how to teach the modified courses in each of these states.

National Safety Council defensive driving courses teach crash statistics, how motorists die and are injured, and the reasons crashes occur. "We then teach them the definition of defensive driving, we define a preventable collision, and the three-step collision prevention formula," Solomon says.

In defensive driving courses, "We talk about the six top driving errors, plus the impact of alcohol and drugs, aggressive driving, road rage, distracted driving and fatigue or drowsy driving," Solomon says. "Fatigue and drowsy driving crashes have really risen in the past few years. It's a comment on our society; underemployed folks are working two or three jobs to make ends meet."

Teen-specific defensive driving courses

One major insurance company offering defensive driving courses is Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm Insurance. However, the program is designed only for teens and young adults, says Missy Lundberg, Chicago-based spokeswoman for the company. "It's basically a program for teenagers to work with their parents to become safer drivers," she says.

While teens are learning to drive, they take the State Farm program and receive car insurance discounts once they earn their licenses. Drivers up to age 25 can take the course and gain the discount.

"But we try to catch drivers before they get their license," Lundberg says. "Hopefully we can have them develop some good habits."

The program is built around a driver's log teen participants compile with the help of their parents that is based on their driving experiences. A 15 percent discount awaits them at program's end, and the discount expires when they reach age 25.

Will defensive driving courses make you a better, safer driver?

Experts disagree on whether defensive driving courses help motorists, young or old, become better and safer drivers. Among those arguing they don't improve driving skills is Russ Rader, spokesman for the Arlington, Va.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"From the safety research side, which is our area, there is no evidence that defensive driving courses reduce crashes," Rader says. "To the extent that [car insurance] discounts may be offered, there is no research that justifies them.

"Studies of driver education programs for teens also show no reduction in crash risk for teens that take them, compared with those who don't."

Jeffrey Steele

Jeffrey Steele is a Chicago-based writer who writes frequently on auto insurance topics.

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