As the cost of motorings grows, here's how to cut your cars' bills
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."
Speeding police officers exposed
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.
23 of the UK's fastest speedi9ng motorists
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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Re Simon Coulton (comfy 1)
Empty headed comments like yours show your lame brained attitude to not being able to do exactly as you please, regardless of any one else, and their safety, The authority should rescind your license and ban you for ever, bet you drive a BMW.,
I've been driving since 1977 and am licensed for motorcycles, PSVs and HGVs. I was caught driving at 37mph in a 30 zone. We all do it, I don't care what anyone says, but when I received the notice offering the course or fine and points, I was livid! "
How dare they? I've had my full license for 34 years, what do they know? It was probably some sprog who's only just passed his test sitting in the van anyway!"
Curse and rant all you like, you are guilty - end of story. You been given options so as Mr Gallagher chants,'You've gotta roll with it' and take the least painful route which suits you. Personally, I didn't want points on a previously untainted license so I paid the £85 and duly attended the course.
What a surprise! Upon arrival at a conference suite in a local holiday park, we were greeted by a lady who could only be described as 'senior' in years and who, we later discovered, still teaches police officers how to drive. There were twenty or so of us there, approximately 50-50 men to women and every one of us had the facial expression of a criminal sat in the dock for sentencing!
The Tutor ran through the timetable with us and informed us that by the end of the session, we would walk from the conference room feeling 'empowered'.
I was cynical, to say the least, but lo and behold, four hours and tea and biscuits later, I was walking to my car having received what can only be described as an 'education'!
I have attended hours and hours of lecturers in my life both from a student and teacher perspective and I can say that, in all honesty, this session was one of the most beneficial classes that I have ever attended.
I did feel 'empowered', I felt relieved that I had no penalty points and I still feel that possibly HM Government should look at making these sessions mandatory for drivers say every ten years. If it saves one life by educating all of us speeders, then it has worked.
I attending one of these courses after going through a 50 limit on a dual carriageway in the early morning at 61mph with no other traffic about. An "Offence " that a traffic cop would ignore.
The course was run by the AA so the start of the course was telling us why we should all be in the AA club and that we should insist our children only use AA driving instructors, Now that's not biased is it!
It then went on to show slides of roads and we were asked to point out the 5 hazards. Myself and a couple of others are also motorcyclists so we actually pointed out the 7 hazards and made the tutor, with 40 years experience and can't be taught anything ponder a while.
The cost of the course is more expensive than a fine but saves you having 3 points. I would like to know why a course tha costs £90 is in the governments opinion to be equal to 3 points. £30 a point yet 12 points you stand to loose your career, wife, family and house. I'm not advocating the course should be more expensive just pointing out the facts which are laughable if only not so serious
I think the course is a good idea (Haven't been on way luckily) but I do agree with other comments about locations after 8 deaths etc - We have one where I live where I know there's been no fatalities and it point's into the area when you should be reducing anyway
However coming up the other way as you approach a split junction, 2 Pubs and a pedestrain crossing, nothing - That makes no sense as this is where the incidents are most likely to occur and people are increasing their speed
They want to teach people how to drive round roundabouts as well - Not just take the shortest lane and then cut across
I have been driving for 36 years and have been on a speed awareness course within the last
3 years. I had been camera trapped doing 34mph in a 30mph speed limit. on the highway in
the east end of London. When I received the notification I felt as if I was being persecuted and
being used as a cash cow. However because I had been only a few miles over the limit the boys
in blue gave me the opportunity to take the awareness course.( Aren't our policemen wonderful)
I paid my £90-00 and went on the course in the city. It was a very good course and I learned
quite a few things or possibly was reminded of what I had forgotten. In all well worth it.
Many people out there feel affronted having to attend but none of us are so good that we don't
need a reminder about our driving abilities. It saves you 3 points .
I feel that I must comment on the 'debunking of the belief that the main purpose of speed cameras is to generate cash rather than help improve road safety'
The very fact that people get caught speeding is proof that (if the main purpose is to stop speeding) the system has at best limited success. Most of us would change a system if it didn't work. If the real intent was to stop speeding then the answer is simple. Make the penalty so severe (say a years ban) that people would not speed. Ok that wouldn't swell the Government coffers by, does anyone know how much is collected in speeding fines a year?, but it would stop speeding. Why isn't that system introduced. I think the answer is pretty obvious
I chose to do this course instead of taking the points and found it a fantastic refresher!
I was apparently at the last session where they stopped the practical side, which to me was the best bit.
The classroom time was very interesting and then we spent time with a driving instructor who advised us how we were doing and encouraged us to use the information we had just been reminded/ in some cases taught in the classroom.
Personally I believe that this course should be mandatory and simular fresher courses should also be every few years for all drivers. This could only ever have a positive impact on our roads and insurance premiums.
I agree that new drivers should be limited in the power of the cars they drive for a decent length of time after they pass their driving test and parents should have more sense than allow their probably teenage children to drive powerful cars. Folk should realise that the speed limit is really only a guide how fast you should go - you have to take lots more things into consideration i.e. weather, road condition, is it a busy road, is it in a residential area. In my area the Council have put up signs and painted 20mph on the road - problem is cars can't read and drivers dont. Speed bumps are the only things that slow drivers down but as we haven't had any accidents in our area they are not considered.
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