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What Are Defensive Driving Courses and Do You Need One?

Taking a defensive driving course, also called traffic school, can be required or voluntary, and the details vary from state to state. These courses are designed to help you improve your knowledge of driving laws in your state with the aim of lowering your risk of getting into a traffic accident. Since over 37,000 people die in car crashes every year, it’s easy to see the wisdom on that.

Should You Take a Defensive Driving Course?

The reasons you might want or need to go to traffic school depends on your state, but the basic allowable reasons include:

  • Reduction or removal of any dings, or points, against you on your driver’s license.
  • Reduction of insurance premium costs, based on a decrease in points.
  • Reinstatement of your license if it was suspended due to license points.
  • Personal desire to improve your driving skills.

In most cases, you will get a notice from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles letting you know you are required to take a defensive driving course, or that you would benefit from doing so. Depending on the state you live in, successful completion of a course does not necessarily mean a removal of a violation from your driving record. However some states, such as California, when you have incurred a moving violation you’ll be notified that the violation will be removed from your record completely and points will be avoided after successful completion of a defensive driving course.

Types of Courses

Many states now allow you to take a defensive driving course online. Others require that you attend in a classroom setting. Online courses generally let you complete the coursework at your own pace. With in-person classes, some states require courses be 3 to 4 hours long while others require 6 to 8 hours or 10 to 12 hours. Some states offer courses specifically tailored to mature drivers. These accept those who feel they need to improve their skills or want to qualify for insurance discounts.

Finding a Traffic School

If you want to complete a defensive driving course to receive insurance discounts, check with your policy provider to see if you need to take a course from a specific school. When looking to remove points or have a ticket dismissed, contact your DMV to find out which state department is appropriate to ask about approved course providers. Cost for taking a course will vary.


Requirements vary by state, but basic requirements that most have in common are:

  • You have a valid non-commercial state driver’s license.
  • Your moving violation must be eligible according to the state.
  • Your insurance company allows courses for premium discounts and your driving record is decent.

States differ on how may times you can take a defensive driving course. DMV.org examples include these samples:

  • Texas: Every 12 months
  • California: Every 18 months, unless approved by the court
  • New York: Every 36 months

If you are considering taking a defensive driving course in order to reduce your insurance premiums, talk to your provider to find out if they provide and, if they do, how much you stand to save.

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