Re-Learning to Drive Online Can Save You Big Bucks

While we think we're pretty safe on the road, we admit we're not perfect drivers. There's the occasional episode of speeding and — if we're honest — a furtive cellphone call or two.

For drivers like us, there's a refresher course called defensive driving — a way to brush up on road skills first acquired during the Clearasil years. Defensive-driving courses are also an opportunity to score discounts on auto insurance, as well as reduce penalties for traffic violations.

Proponents of the courses say they can help drivers avoid becoming a tragic statistic, too. About 41,000 people died and 2.5 million were injured in crashes in 2007, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The classes, however, often involve a six- to eight-hour commitment. The coursework also has the reputation for being mind-numbingly dull. But, to make the classes more appealing, some companies have retooled the curriculum, adding colorful graphics, workbooks and interactive features to engage students. Other courses skip the classroom altogether and offer defensive driving over the Web or on DVD. These formats tout the ability to break the coursework up into manageable chunks of time.

We tested three defensive-driving courses. Two of our testers took online courses — with one of those dubbed a "comedy" class led by animated characters. Another tester took a six-hour defensive-driving course in a traditional classroom setting. We also tried to take a class at home on DVD, but our attempt failed when the course wasn't available at multiple Blockbuster Inc. video stores in our tester's Los Angeles neighborhood. (A company spokesman said the videos must have been checked out by others.) ~ ~

Before you sign up for a course, be sure that your state has sanctioned the specific program — online and DVD courses are not valid in all parts of the country. Also make sure the course satisfies the terms of any court order or employment requirement, if that's the case. Finally, check with your insurer to see what discounts you'll qualify for. Our testers received discounts of about $45 a year, amounting to about a 3% rate cut. (The course also enabled one tester to reduce a $230 speeding ticket to $110.)

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