Making the decision to slow down on the roads

Toby Lock driving in preperation for speed awarness course
Toby Lock driving in preperation for speed awarness course

THERE is nothing more frustrating than seeing a speed camera appear on the horizon as you plant your foot on the brake to get down to the legal speed limit for 50 feet, before accelerating away.

But it was a few weeks ago, when I saw a police van parked near the Citizen offices, speed checking drivers on their way into work when I thought ‘what have I achieved by going over the speed limit?’

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I don’t want this to come over as a preachy feature, telling you how naughty you are for driving over the speed limit and how righteous I am for not wanting to drive that fast any more. I just wondered whether the speed awareness courses genuinely worked and made people slow down on the roads.

Funnily enough, it was watching one of those police camera shows on television that made me think twice about how quickly I drive. An unmarked police car pulled over a man on his way to work in Northampton – a stretch of road I regularly used to drive to go to work – and gave him a penalty and points on the spot. He had no defence, he was going too fast for no legitimate reason. Being late for work is not a legitimate reason.

Covering MK Dons matches means I travel a lot for work and cover a lot of miles on the road. But I’ve never once been late for a game because I didn’t leave early enough or because I didn’t drive fast enough. Driving at 90mph all the way to Carlisle may reduce the time on the road, but is it worth it if I got a ticket, points and an ear full from my boss for speeding in the company car? So I decided to do something about it.

Speed awareness courses, offered in Milton Keynes by AA DriveTech on behalf of Thames Valley Police, are seen as a way of escaping the penalty points. Initially, I was cagey about the whole experience – would it be four hours of patronising ‘speed kills’ talk?

Shortly after the session started though, I knew it wasn’t going to be like that at all. It was light-hearted, interactive and informative – a real eye-opener for some of the people who were taking part legitimately. And it was clear from the off that everyone was guilty of speeding.

But there were some frightening admissions to have come out of the class – almost a quarter of the attendees were unsure of the national speed limit, van drivers unaware that the limits were different for them and the revelation that more deaths occurred on rural roads than in urban areas raised more than a few eyebrows.

Statistics of injuries are probably the most humbling of subjects at these courses – you may think that going 2mph over the limit is harmless, but the figures say differently and nothing puts the frighteners on a driver more than stories of children being struck by the side of the road.

It also became abundantly clear that while we’d all qualified to drive. none of us were entirely clear on the rules and that our last lesson teaching us the simple basics of driving was a long, long time ago.

So taking to the roads after the lesson was over was an eye opening experience, particularly in the immediate aftermath. First, I realised that I was in no rush. Not because I had to go back to work, but because I’d save a negligible amount of time if I went over the speed limit. Frankly it was pointless.

Everything around me seemed calmer. Because I wasn’t in a rush, the car in front didn’t bother me for going too slowly, I didn’t need to pull out in front of the van coming up on the outside because I was comfortable to wait for him to pass. The whole driving experience became less stressful. Driving in Milton Keynes is hardly a testing environment compared to some places, but I had a trip to Notts County to plan for at the weekend, and a chance to experience the busy inner-city roads and an hour on the motorway with my new mentality. And it was a breeze. I wasn’t tempted to hammer along in the fast lane with the 90mph brigade, content in the slow lane for once, getting to the ground as early as I had planned. Sure, the traffic lights of Nottingham annoyed me, but I’m a child of Milton Keynes and a roundabout is always preferable to a red light.

I doubt I’m the only driver to leave that course affected by what it taught me, and even if the 24 others slow down on our roads, speed awareness courses do work. If not, you deserve the points.