Last month, one quiet Sunday evening, I was driving into Tunbridge Wells. My normal route had roadworks, so I had to carry a bit further on – and passed one of those small yellow boxes in a 30mph speed limit zone. I was doing 38 mph. I got flashed by the camera and a week later, got a notice from the Police to say I had been done for speeding.
I was given two options by the Kent Police. Pay a fine of £60 and get three points on my licence. Or pay £85 and go on a speed awareness course. I had heard positive things about the latter – and so decided to go for the course as it would keep my licence clean.
And so it was, last Friday afternoon, I sat for four and a half hours in a small hotel conference room listening to two lecturers about the highway code, reaction times and the laws of physics.
Having filled-out a brief questionnaire at the start on what I thought the meaning of various road-signs were, it became apparent that I probably thought I knew a lot more than I actually did! I worked out that I hadn’t actually been tested on the highway code since taking my driving test in 1978! A sobering thought.
The turning point came for me when I was told that 38mph is the speed at which, if you are a pedestrian and you are hit by an oncoming car, you will almost certainly die. Until then, I though it was a bit daft being done for speeding for so little over the speed limit. After that point, it made me sober-up. Added to that, it became clear that the speed limit is just that – a speed limit – not a “got away with it again” sign. Just because half the population or more see it is the latter, the course was designed to get you into thinking sensibly.
We saw several very effective videos and learnt about reaction times and stopping distances. Reaction times are when, as a driver, you are in control and have choices. Stopping distance is the bit where you have decided to stop your pile of metal careering into something – and, here, the laws of physics and the speed you are traveling is the main defining factor as to whether or not you will succeed in stopping in your desired distance.
The stopping distances are in the highway code (a copy of which we were given for our £85) – see diagram below:
These are distances a car travels, over the time it takes for you to bring the vehicle to a full stop. These distances are for a well maintained car, with good brakes and tyres, an alert driver, and a dry road, in daylight. We were told that if you are going at 70 mph down a motorway in good conditions the combined thinking distance plus stopping distance is about 96 metres or 24 car lengths.
What was not on the diagram was the fact that if you are going 80 mph down a motorway in similar conditions, you will still be going 38mph after 24 car lengths. Spooky how that 38mph keeps coming up! Oh, and if you are going 100mph down the motorway (who hasn’t, at some stage, gone for a “burn”even if just to see what it feels like?) – then you will still be going at 70mph after 24 car lengths!
So, at the end of this speed awareness course, I came away quite humbled. On my way home from the course, I felt like a learner driver again. A lot more aware of traffic signs – and – oh, yes – those lamp-posts which mean that you are in a 30mph zone – even if there are no signs. I never knew that – or if I did learn it once, I had forgotten the fact.
So, if you get the chance to pay a fine and get 3 points on your licence – or go for a slightly more expensive Speed Awareness Course, then I’d definitely go for the latter. You will learn a lot – and hopefully become a safer driver. Most importantly, I really did learn that you’re never too old to learn!