Speed awareness: take two
I have to confess that I have just taken a second "speed awareness course" (my first experience is immortalised here). Apparently I am one of very few who returns to do this course a second time.
I don't mean to sound so bullish. I do think that driving too fast is wrong, and I know the dangers. I was caught by a speed camera on a Sunday morning at just after 9.00 am, after I had done a radio interview at the Radio Cambridgeshire studios. (I wasn't thinking, the road was open, and I was doing 36 in a 30 mile limit: wrong, enough said).
What was interesting was how much the rhetoric of the course had changed since 5 years ago.
Last time I took the course, to be honest, the line was very much NOT punitive or lurid. It was low key, albeit slighty sexist (we were then divided into groups named after racing car teams.. err, on speed awareness?). Yet I learned a lot - especially about how dangerous the hard shoulder on a motorway was.
This time it was a bit more emotional. There was plenty of useful information (including more about the hard shoulder). But we were also shown, for example, an interview with the parent of a kid killed in a speeding car accident. The basic idea was that we should see speeding as just as morally wicked as we now see drink driving. It was/is a moral issue.
I guess that must be right. If you will kill a kid in the road at 30 miles an hour and not at 20 miles an hour, who the hell would drive at 30? Yet we were blinded by so many statistics that it always seemed better to shut up than object in any way. I was silenced. I now find myself mentally interjecting that is isn't all quite so simple. Statistics of "accidents on urban roads vs motorways" only make any sense if we know how many motoring person hours take place on each type of road in the first place.. and so on!
The truth is that this course seemed to me to be a step back from the one I had done before. First we were told to turn out phones off (in case there was a celebrity on the course, who might not want to be recognised ( "I've had High Court Judges!, our leader said). Second, there was an awful rhetoric about the "tax-payer" (you, the tax payer, pay for all those white lines and extra notices where there has been an accident, as if all there was to it was cash).
Most of all it revealed the really opaque system of speed limit warnings that we have come to live with. A large part of the four hour course was taken up with how you could work these out. To start with, can you see street lights? If so, that would mean a 30 mile limit, unless you can see other signs to say different.. or unless you are on a motorway, in which case it doesn't mean 30.... If you dont see street lights, that means the national limit for whatever road you are on. Hang on?
I can't say that the whole course was useless. In fact, getting people to learn about speed seems much better than giving them 3 points on their licence. And I am pleased (and ashamed) to have done it again. But if I had any suggestions, I would cut the awful tear-jerking stories ( straight accounts are more powerful), and I would do something about the system of speed signage in the UK. If we have to rely on the street lights.. that just cant work. Shouldn't we just make it simpler?
Very few people actually want to kill in their cars, The speed awareness course helps many. But it might get its rhetoric better? And it might be a little less patronising?