November 1, 2004
On The Defense
It’s Friday afternoon. You have the whole weekend ahead of you, so you’re anxious to get home. In the rearview mirror, you spot a police car’s flashing lights. The siren is wailing, signaling you to pull over. The officer leaves you with a $95 ticket and two points added your license. Your first thought: “The insurance is going to go through the roof.” Your second thought: “Two more points after this and my license will be suspended.” Don’t panic. Take a defensive driving course.
According to the National Safety Council (www.nsc.org; 630-285-1121), 28 states allow up to three points to be subtracted from the total on your driving record if you have received violations within 18 months before course completion. Also, 34 states offer insurance discounts of up to 10%. “In other states, where all companies are required by law to offer a discount, individual companies operating in those states offer premium reduction,” says Thomas Chartoff, a New Jersey police officer and defensive driving instructor. Insurance points, which are assigned by your individual insurance carrier, are used to determine the cost of your auto insurance and, therefore, are not reduced upon course completion.
Since the courses are for experienced drivers, don’t expect driving instruction basics. Also, don’t expect to take a vehicle out on the open road. You actually sit in a classroom for an all-day seminar that has a quiz at the end. The quiz is designed to see if you were listening and has no impact on getting the course certificate at completion. “The courses don’t teach you how to drive; they teach correct driving techniques,” says Chartoff. Topics include judging distance and being proactive instead of reactive. Chartoff mentions that the content of each course will be slightly different depending on the instruction. Course duration is usually six to eight hours and is typically intended for traffic violators; repeat offenders/problem drivers; traffic violators ages 16 to 24; and professional truck, van, and fleet drivers.
Those interested in a defensive driving course are warned to use caution when considering online driving schools. “The material is there, but they do not always have an instructor, which is a key part of the course,” says Chartoff. It is imperative to know whether or not the course is accredited by your particular state, for both traditional and online courses. A course can be accredited in one state and not another.
Course prices vary from $40 to more than $100 depending on the instruction and location. Each state has a different limit on how often you can take a course. In New Jersey, for example, a course can be taken once every five years for license point reduction and once every three years for an insurance discount. For more information on defensive driving courses, license point reductions, and insurance discounts, contact your insurance company, NSC, or AAA at 800-763-9900 or visit www.aaa.com.