speed awarenessOh dear; going too fast again!  This afternoon I attended another speed awareness course; this time in a plush hotel on the Chesterfield by-pass.  This is the third such course I have attended; each time for the same reason, going at 37mph on the identical stretch of 30mph dual carriageway just off the Leeds ring road going towards Headingly.  I was fed up, a mixture of shame and frustration.  Four hours seemed a very long time to have my wrist slapped.  Didn’t they know I had a book to write?   

There were about 10 sad looking people waiting in reception when I arrived.  Are you coming to join the naughty boys club?, somebody asked, but it wasn’t just boys; there were as many girls there. But it was rather like being caught for doing something wrong at school.  The two instructors, Keith and Steven, who were somewhere between a comedy duo and primary school teachers, laboured their points. Surely there was only a limited number of times they needed to tell us that National Speed Limit for a single carriage road was 60mph and it was the presence of regular street lights that defined a built up area.  That is except when neither applied, like when these were overridden by repeater signs indicating 20mph, 40mph, 50mph or on dual carriageways and motorways where the speed limit for cars was 70mph.  Of course, if you happen to be towing a trailer, driving a bus or a van, it was different.  Heavy lorries were more restricted, particularly in Scotland.  But speed limits are the fastest you can legally go.  In practice, motorists have to drive at the speed of the road and also use their judgement, depending on traffic and weather conditions. So they should slow down when the view ahead is obstructed by a parked traffic, a sharp bend or the brow of a hill. That’s all very well when the speed of the road is slower than the speed limit, but when it’s a lot faster like on the dual carriageway where I was caught, going at the speed of the road is no excuse.  After two hours of this, I began to lose the will to live.  

Don’t get me wrong;  I do understand the seriousness of speeding;  I realise my frustration might reflect a degree of disavowal – it’s not me guv’ner; it’s the councils who set the limits.  It was all beginning to sound like they just make it all up as they go along (just below the speed limit), when Keith pointed out that the system reacts to the number KSIs on that particular stretch of road.  KSI stands for Killed or Seriously Injured.  When there has been one such incident, they lower the speed limit.  When three such incidents occur, they put a camera up.  Five people are killed on our roads every day, though the rate used to be a lot more.  Suddenly it seemed a good idea, but drivers who are out on the roads all the time know where all the cameras are and frequently break the speed limit without getting caught. Looking around the room, I estimated that about 75% of us were over 60 and part time drivers, and none were speedy Gonzalez.  In fact, we had all been caught for doing 34 to 37mph in a built up area; any faster and we would have had an automatic 5 points on our licences.    

I was rather relieved that they didn’t show videos of children being hit by cars this time.  Instead they made the point about the lethal effect of speeding by a demonstration showing that when you are just a few miles per hour over the limit, both the stopping distance and the speed at impact increase exponentially.  At the point at which a car will stop when going at 30mph, just an extra 5mph will increase the speed at impact by 17mph. And travelling at 100mph will increase impact speed by 71mph and braking distance by over 200 yards. 

We spent a lot of time talking about psychology of speeding.  Did people drive too fast because they were frustrated, were short of time, or because they were distracted?   Children in the back seat and mobile phones are the commonest reasons for distraction.  Then we were asked what we would do differently to avoid getting caught speeding again.  Some said they would update their SatNav so that they would know where all the cameras were, but as Richard pointed out, SatNavs are not reliable and are no excuse.  I thought I could allow plenty of time so I could chill and focus.  Also, I could avoid driving when I am too tired and not get distracted by listening to the Radio 4. Keith had one good tip, always drive in third gear through a 30mph area.  Modern cars will have use any more fuel and the engine noise will feel much more comfortable at 30.  

Speeding does not actually get you to your destination much shorter.  If you go at 80mph instead of 70mph along a completely empty motorway, you will only get there 10 minutes earlier.  And if you go at 35mph through a town, the time saved will be seconds.  When I remember, I set the cruise control, but it does mean that I cruise up behind people a little faster than usual.  

Although I was relieved to get to the end of four hours, but I did feel I had learnt something. I would be much more aware of motor cycles. Only 1% of vehicles on the road are motorcycles, yet they include 18% of fatalities, most not the fault of the cyclist but of the car that does’t see them – often because modern cars have been so strengthened that the blind spots are much larger.  I would also try not to get frustrated with cyclists on hilly Derbyshire roads.  The highway code even recommends that cyclists ride two abreast so that cars have to slow down to pass them.  But what if bikes break the speed limit?  Do the same laws apply?