Drat! Hands up. I got caught speeding on the A40 at Wheatley last summer during the roadworks when the limit was 40mph on a stretch that usually had a 70mph limit.
It was on August 17, 2013, at 11.01am when I was doing an average of 46mph, probably late for an 11am appointment in Oxford.
This was the most unfortunate day of the year to be caught because on that day the cost of a speeding ticket rose from £60 to £100; so, in a sense, I got a double whammy, not only a fine, but a freshly increased fine.
Not a happy bunny…not even when the police offered me the alternative of a Speed Awareness Course, so I could avoid the fine and points on my licence or a trip to court and higher insurance premiums.
I thought this course would be the equivalent of hell on wheels, but I accepted the offer. After all, I was saving £5 because the course cost £95 and the fine was £100, but I was a reluctant student. It would be boring, patronising and punitive.
I arrived on time at the course centre and parked next to white van man who said he had gone through the experience twice before and claimed the only way he could endure it was with the help of some mind-altering drugs.
The instructor was Andy Lee, a silver-haired and silver-tongued optimist with a fundamental belief that every driver could be a better driver and that education is better than punishment.
Andy has been giving this course for years.
“People come to the session fairly crusty and worried and even scared that they will get a lecture from some butch policeman about how bad they are,” he said. “They don’t really know what to expect. They’re wary and not pleased to be here, expecting the worst.”
Well, he was spot on for me and the other 49 people in the room.
At first there was a sense of relief because we were pleased to see the others were ‘normal people’, not just young tearaways. The age range ran from 17 to 90, with all income groups represented.
People were generally ordinary car drivers, not professional lorry or coach drivers. But my session had an emergency first aid responder and previously one of the people on the course was a very senior police driving trainer, the head of a police driving school who got caught speeding.
One elderly speed demon gentleman enquired of the instructor during the 12.30-4.30pm session: “Young man, at what point will you be serving luncheon? I assume that’s included in the £95 fee. And, oh, I do require a snooze at around 2.30pm.”
Speed cameras are successful deterents to fast driving
Our instructor asked us how many years we had been driving and it turned out that between us the people on this course had 550 years of experience behind the steering wheel.
So what was he going to teach us?
Andy Lee is against “death by PowerPoint”.
“Presentations can be so dry,” he said. “Let’s turn this into a real two-way thing.”
So he stood engagingly in front of the group and said: “Let’s talk. Why do you speed? What are the consequences? Can you be a better driver? What’s your point of view.”
Four hours later he produced this graph relating speed and the death of pedestrians which showed that in a collision at 30mph, 20 per cent of pedestrians were killed and at 40mph, 90 per cent died. Even the most cynical were paying attention then.
I can’t summarise the course here, but Andy argued that in the last seven years, while the courses have been running, the death rate on the roads has fallen by around 50 per cent. He puts it down to several improvements: education, engineering of cars and enforcement by the police.
“I’m just one small cog in a machine that has cut the death rate rather dramatically, but that’s immensely satisfying and it’s great to watch the people on the Speed Awareness Course and see the penny drop.”
I drove home very carefully and stayed strictly within the speed limits while mulling over the comments of a previous student on this course: “I’ve already started educating my family and now my work colleagues – and guess what? It’s having a great effect.
“I’ve now got my family and friends thinking about the consequences. Speeding means death and none of us wants to live with that on our shoulders.”