Attending a naughty boys’ course

Despite my car’s oversized engine, I’m not a speed freak: I’ve had a license over two decades and my motoring offenses comprise precisely two parking tickets. Until last month, when a camera clocked me at 39 in a 30 zone.

Like everyone who gets one, I felt unfairly victimised. It was just off the M4 so was still in a motorway mood… and why should I get penalised when cars were passing me as it flashed? (The answer: they got Fixed Penalty Notices too.) But the fine sheet had an interesting option: avoid points on my license… if I attend a “Speed Awareness Course” for first offenders. The shocking thing: it was actually quite good.

The first entertainment value came in the names of the presenters: Mr Neophyte and Miss Lightning. (You take all the laughs you can get at 7am on a damp Friday.) Despite his name, Mr Neophyte was an experienced driving instructor odd-jobbing for the Met, and his attitude was ideal. Whereas a Met man might’ve adopted a finger-wagging you-naughty-people approach (the attitude that’s led to a majority of white middle-class Londoners quietly withdrawing their support for the police) Neo prefers a regular-guy persona: I Understand, You’re Here to Avoid Points on your License. Which we are.

“We” are a bunch of 18 people. Most are from ethnic minorities; nearly all are male. But at this time in the morning, it’s probably the “professional” bunch: the folk who have jobs to go to. It’s good-humoured considering nobody wants to be here. But the mood is managed with skill.

First up’s a recap of things many of us haven’t revised in years: the Highway Code. Speed limits on Britain’s various road types. I get them all right but learn something too: do you know that if you see street lights without a sign indicating the limit, you assume it’s just 30mph? Interesting. Access roads to service stations count. Then comes the real stuff: the justification for why travelling at 35mph in a 30 zone can cost you your license (if you do it four times in four years

It’s all about curves, and I’m not talking rural roads here. If you hit a pedestrian below 30, they’ve got a high survival rate – over 80%. But for every mph above that, the chances they’ll die shoot off the scale – the graph’s like a hockey stick. By 40mph, you’re a death sentence for basically anyone you run into. And that’s the zone where most fatalities happen: on motorways you’re travelling much faster (70mph) and breaking the limit much more frequently (80-90mph) for far more miles… yet barely 6% of accidents take place on them.

So: for a course you don’t want to attend and feel victimised for being asked, the output’s not bad. I find I am thinking about speed more often, and paying particular attention when people are around. All in all, not a bad result.

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