This morning I attended a two and a half hour long speed awareness course, having been caught doing 37 mph in a 30 limit in Brixton at 3am one morning in early June. I will admit to being slightly sceptical of what it would entail, but I have to say I found the whole thing very useful. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was enjoyable - that would be going too far, but it held everyone's attention and people approached it with an open mind.
Twenty of us gathered in a rather odd building next to Bromley Station. We were encouraged to arrive by train due to "limited parking". That was of course a complete lie, as there was free parking right about 50 yards away. As I was buzzed through the door, six or seven others were waiting to be let through another door in an ante-room. "It feels like queuing up to be processed in a prison," I blurted out, causing a small titter from the others. "Not that I would know," I added quickly.
What surprised me was the social make-up of the twenty people present. Twelve were women and virtually everyone was over 40. There wasn't a boy racer in sight.
We all had to do a computer test to start with, which proved to be an interesting experience for the two female pensioners who thought a mouse was something to be frightened of. It included some videos where you had to click when you thought you were the right distance away from the car in front, or when you spotted a hazard which could cause an accident. Most of the questions were designed to see what kind of driver you are. It won't surprise you to know that when I got the results, I was rated as driving 'very much faster than average', even though I hadn't had a speeding ticket within the last three years and haven't had an accident either. I also drive further away from the vehicle in front than average. I have a faster than average reaction to potential hazards, which will come as a great surprise to my partner, who specialises in trying to brake even when he is a passenger in a car with me as he thinks my reactions are very slow! I have a slightly higher than average 'emotional reaction' while driving and can become easily distracted. I have an 'extreme tendency to sleepiness'. So the lesson is, if I offer you a lift home after doing a late night paper review, say no!
The main point of the course was to drive home the difference between driving at 30 mph and 40 mph, and from that point of view it was highly successful. OK, it stands to reason that the faster you drive, and you hit someone, the more likely they are to die. But when you are told that at 30 mph the person has a 90% of chance of surviving, while at 40 mph they only have a 10% chance of surviving, it does make you think. Everyone on the course had been caught doing between 30 mph and 40 mph.
We were all asked why we had been caught. In my case, I hadn't realised I was over the limit. One person said she was rushing someone to hospital. The course leader said that 15% of people who drive too fast to get someone to hospital, end up there themselves through having an accident.
Perhaps the most shocking statistic was when we were told that if you break down on the motorway and decide to sit in your car on the hard shoulder your life expectancy is reduced to 12 minutes - 12 minutes!!!
Here's something else I didn't know. We were asked what percentage of collisions occur on urban roads, rural roads and motorways. I guessed 50-30-20. The true statistics are 71%% on urban roads, 25% on rural roads and a mere 4% on motorways. In terms of deaths 40% occur on urban roads, 54% on rural roads and 6% on motorways. It's because if you have a serious crash on an urban road or motorway you are likely to be taken to hospital within an hour, whereas on a rural road it may be hours before someone even finds you.
How many speed cameras are there inside the M25, do you think? Most people thought between 2-5,000. The number is actually 651, with another 187 at traffic lights. Each one costs £40,000. The course leader was at great pains to point out that they were only erected in places where there had been four accidents causing serious injury or death. I still find this assertion difficult to believe, thinking of the location of some that I know. I questioned whether it would not be better to spend the £40k on eight of the flashing speed signs, which I have to say have a much better effect on my driving than speed cameras do.
So, in short, I am glad I attended. The course held our attention throughout, even if at times people probably felt as if they were being spoken to as if they were naughty children. But it never felt as if we were being lectured at. Perhaps the least credible part of the course was when the course leader asserted that she never, ever speeds. No one believed her. Until she told us that five years ago her 13 year old daughter had been hit by a motorist doing 37 mph in a 30 limit. She survived but is still receiving treatment for the injuries she suffered.
We all stared at our feet. As well we might.
UPDATE: A thought occurred to me. Why don't we make everyone who takes a driving test take one of these courses before they can drive on the roads? Charge them the going rate so there's no cost to the taxpayer. Wouldn't it be better to get them young, rather than wait till they have transgressed?