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We attend a speed awareness course
Someone quipped that it was like being called into the headmaster's study for detention. But this was no laughing matter as we waited outside the hotel conference room waiting to be 'signed in'. This meant producing our driving licences, which ranged from the newer versions with photo IDs to my tatty 20-year-old specimen held together with Sellotape.
The state of licences reflected the age spread of the group - mid 20s to early 70s. Twenty three of us in all, including eight women. But we all had something in common - exceeding the speed limit. Not by a wide enough margin to automatically incur a £60 fine and three points, or worse. Instead, we had the option of attending a Speed Awareness Course. With an attendance fee of £85, it was more costly, but the carrot was that we would be let off the three-points. As one of my fellow wrongdoers pointed out: "It's a no brainer, isn't it."
The rules were strict. Anyone turning up late would forfeit their £85 and apart from 'comfort calls' and a 15 minute tea break, everyone had to stay for the entire four-hour session. We were warned that anyone 'standing in' for the real culprit risked a hefty fine and possibly prison and asked to switch off our mobiles. Not just for the usual reason of call interruptions, though. As Richard, one of our 'tutors', explained: "We have quite a number of well-known people turning up at these sessions. One was a footballer who was not best pleased someone used a video phone and put him on You Tube."
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Named and shamed
Rules over, we were each asked to name the location where we had been 'caught' and the amount of excess speed. Most were in Hertfordshire - venue for the session was the Comet Hotel in Hatfield - with the odd one or two nabbed further afield. For me, it was in Suffolk while on holiday, where a mobile camera noted that I was doing 35mph in a 30mph limit along the A12.
Trainers were brilliant. I felt really relaxed. Miss H, 23
This exchange of information was a chance to break the ice and for some to volunteer their occupations, ranging from a retired teacher to a psychotherapist. Graham, the other tutor, pointed out that our session looked like being a good deal friendlier than the morning one. "Perhaps it's because of the presence of the ladies this afternoon - an all-male audience is inclined to be more hostile."
Added Richard: "You get some people coming here with a truculent attitude - 'I've been driving for 40 years and there's nothing you can teach me...'. The purpose of these sessions is not to give someone the opportunity to kick off. We're not here to have rows and we're not here to lecture you. We welcome constructive feedback and hopefully you'll leave having learned something."
Next came the debunking of the belief that the main purpose of speed cameras is to generate cash rather than help improve road safety. "Before any camera can be installed, there has to be evidence that its location has been the scene of eight deaths or serious injury," said Richard. "So, in cases of fatality, you might say that each one serves as a metal memorial."
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Speed camera myths debunked
Neither was it necessarily the case that speed cameras were the automatic default in high-risk spots. Graham cited one road near a college with accidents involving students, many from overseas. Looking at the evidence of excess speeding, the local authority calculated that just one camera would generate more than £1m in fines, but instead it decided to 're-engineer' the road with chicanes and humps.
The info on stopping distances was eye-opening Miss B, 23
There were a couple of 'true or false' quizzes, which highlighted our woeful ignorance of The Highway Coded, and an exercise that had us all fooled. It featured a diagram of a main road with several junctions. Estimates of speed restriction ranged from 20mph to 50mph until Richard pointed out that it was derestricted because there was no 'street furniture' - street lamps and restriction signs. That took us further into the subject of signage and helped us to understand the reasoning behind so much apparent 'clutter'.
Recognise this driver habit pointed out by Graham? "Typically, you won't adjust your speed until you're past a restricted sign, but will start to increase your speed well before you see the derestricted one. It's a behavioural pattern - oh, no, I've got to slow down...goody, I can start to increase my speed again."
One inevitable question from the audience: Were there any instances where speeding could be justified - an urgent call to say that a loved one had been seriously injured in an accident, for example? "Yes, I can sympathise with this, it's highly emotional, but anyone in this situation risks harming someone else," said Graham.
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The gruesome facts
To illustrate his point, there were a couple of gruesome videos and statistics indicating a 1% fatality rate among pedestrians hit at 20mph, compared to 31% at 40mph. Hitting a pedestrian was described as "a bag of skin, bone and tissue, mostly containing water, coming up against a ton and half of metal and plastic - no contest".
And what about driver/passenger injuries? Despite advances in car safety design, force of impact is likely to scramble our brain against the skull, or slam our internal organs against the rib cage. "A lot of dead victims don't look that seriously injured - it's what happens inside that's caused the damage, in many cases a ruptured aorta," said Graham.
Informative, friendly and good group atmosphere. Well worth £85. Mrs O, 40
With the government deciding to retain the current MoT system, it was a timely opportunity for Richard to point out that 97% of accidents were down to driver error. "The MoT helps ensure that vehicles are mechanically sound - but there's no three-year scheme for testing the drivers."
And the lesson we were asked to take home with us? It's summed up in the acronym COAST - concentration, observation, anticipation, space and time.
Judging by the warm reception given to Richard and Graham at the close, it's a lesson most of us will bear in mind. Except for one potential recidivist who was overheard saying: "I was caught because my speed detector was switched off. Next time, I'll make sure it's on."
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What the others thought...
Speed awareness courses are usually run by local authorities and the police. The criteria is that education, as an alternative to prosecution, must be based on a driver's mistake, rather than a reckless or intentional act. In Hertfordshire alone, more than 40,000 motorists have attended courses since 2006. Those who re-offend within three years are not eligible for the course option.
Sample of comments from those who have attended one of these courses:
Very beneficial and I would like to believe that I will take all this into account. Mr C, 53
It was enlightening, enjoyable, interesting and very well conducted. Mr M, 60
I half expected to be 'talked down to' and treated as something of a 'naughty boy', but on the contrary. Mr F, 65
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Ironic that the worst culprits of speeding are Police officers who incidently seem to get away with it all the time, whilst people like ourselves get fined or sent on courses like these. I have seen so many police cars speeding without being on an emergency, police officers driving whilst drinking or eating and even one on a mobile phone but i have yet to see or hear of one being fined or attending a speed awareness course. Double standards!
There's always a clever-clogs who thinks he/she knows more than the Traffic Authorities. I know because I am one.
I have been driving long enough to know my limitations, those of the vehicle, the effect of climatic conditions, volume of traffic and visibility ahead. I drive within those limitations, because I don't want to be involved in an accident, but despair when I encounter a "30" limit in a semi-rural area with fields on one side of the road and a wide grass verge on the other. That may be in place simply because a Councillor lives there.
On the other hand I know of country lanes wriggling across the landscape with blind bends every 200 metres that are best traversed at about 20 mph, though the legal limit is 60.
"Next came the debunking of the belief that the main purpose of speed cameras is to generate cash rather than help improve road safety. "Before any camera can be installed, there has to be evidence that its location has been the scene of eight deaths or serious injury," said Richard. "So, in cases of fatality, you might say that each one serves as a metal memorial." UNQUOTE
A number of years ago the village of Clapham near Bedford was by-passed with a dual carriage way, so a completely new part of the A6 had been built.
Even before the road was opened two fixed speed cameras were installed despite the fact that there had not been a single accident as the road was new.
I agree that speed cameras should be installed in accident hotspots but I dare say that a lot of speed cameras are only there to milk the motorists and make money.
I went on one of these courses last year, and it was well worthwhile in my opinion.
One thing this article fails to mention is that it was pointed out the amount of money you can save yourself by "driving properly". By this I mean selecting the correct gear for the speed you are travelling at, which in turn makes staying at the right speed easier, anticipating so you don't have to slowdown or speedup as much. I've gone from around 40mpg to nearly 50mpg since going on the course.
Hell, with deisel at 145.9p a litre round these parts at the moment, what's not to like about that!!?
And the other wierd thing about it? I don't find it takes me any longer to get anywhere than when I was in a mad rush all the time.
Personally, I think these courses should be open to everyone, whether they've been caught speeding or not. Maybe even offering a discount on insurance for attending?
I had to attend a speed awareness course, late last year as it was "cheaper than points!!"
To my surprise I actually found it very informative, the gentleman who took the course was an ex-policeman who was very knowledgeable but also had a great sense of humour and made it interesting..Lots of people there moaned taht it was a waste of time but I took the attitude that I had paid £90 odd pounds to be there so I might as well "get my money's worth!!".
4 Months on I am still more aware of what goes on now!!!
I still think that most cameras are for revenue than safety though due to the locations of most of them... Incidentally I was caught by a mobile van.....
David (Houghton45) - I drive as part of my job 30k per annum. I have a clean licence and try not to speed. BUT - lots of speed limits have been reduced - often where I can see no reason - ie not residential - the current thinking is to slow traffic to a crawl. Speed traps are often placed on the only clear bits of road. Road signs are not always clear, especially around speed changes in the roads.
We have load of speed cameras round by me, as we have had fatalities - a stolen motorbike with riders with no helmets. No doubt all the joyriders speeding etc are put into the pot for speed cameras.
Driving is more than observing to the letter a number on a dial, the current thinking seems to be drive as badly as you like, as long as you are not speeding.
The article could have been written with more consideration to Plain English though. I had to use a dictionary twice to look up the words 'truculent' and 'recidivist '. Never heard of them before!
It's annoying how luxury car drivers such as BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes believe it is their right to speed in the third lane on motorways! Flashing their lights and forcing other cars obeying the speed limit out of the way. It's surprising they don't get caught more often driving at such ridiculous speeds!
By the end of the day I understood just what a d----k head I was and what I had not known !!! well worth any one taking this course and I am now 68 !!
Pedestrians must take more responsibility for themselves when crossing roads and not expect a vehicle weighting 12 tons empty or up to 20 tons loaded to stop on a sixpence in the case of buses it is cheaper to hit a pedestrian ( or a vehicle) than have passenger falls inside the bus.
in short if you got to cross the black stuff do it on a proper crossing.
As for speeding you are on your own BERK!
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