Monday, 13 January 2014


I am a criminal. I am beset with remorse and shame. Yes, after 45 pointless years of driving I’ve been done for speeding. I am going down and in my troubled dreams the judge is reaching for his black cap.

But I’m offered an alternative. Attendance at a “Speed Awareness Course” plus a small fee for the privilege. Twenty of us attend it, ironically held at Brighton Race Course. When, as we waited, someone noted there weren’t many young people there another grimly suggested the young drove much too fast to be picked up on the cameras we’d fallen foul of, all of us driving at 36mph.

The thesis the course instructors pursued was changing attitudes changed behaviour and the 4 hours or so that followed was at times subtle but mostly a crude and where necessary (in their judgement) a brutal assault on “I’m a good driver and the law is an ass” mentality. Overall it was a powerful experience. Every driver should go on one - every driver. After all when did you last read the Highway Code?

The attendees had their usual cynics – “I’d rather go to prison than do this” – (you wouldn’t, you really wouldn’t). Or the guys who were in denial of science – “it’s all very well telling me how long it takes a professional driver to stop but I know my car and my ability to react”. This person reminded me of a passenger on the London Underground on being told a delay had been caused by “someone being under a train at Arnos Grove” saying “that’s all very well but…”

What happened to most of us was we gradually absorbed the grim reality that we’d taken driving for granted for a blameless and long time, that were probably lucky not to have killed someone before now, that we probably would if we drove at more than 29mph (where there were street lights) and then we’d go to prison for a 5-14 year stretch losing our jobs, wife, family, friends, reputation and hope.

Britain’s the safest country in the world when it comes to road safety but we still kill 1,700 of each other a year. And speed is the major attributable reason for this - driving faster than our ability to stop in time. Quite simply drive at 20 mph and it will take at least 40 feet to stop if someone walks out in front of you…at 30mph that rises to 75 feet. That is fact and none of your “that’s all very well buts.”

But I want to go back to the attitude/behaviour thesis because I think it’s the other way round. If mass-behaviour changes then it’s attitudes that change. Hence recent smoking, alcohol and drug use declines. We need a behavioural tipping point.  And courses like this do just that by cramming us with a new sense of reality; by educating us, shocking us with some facts and shaming us about our ignorance of them. That’s what changes the way we do things like driving.  Because this is something most of us have simply stopped thinking about.

1 comment:

AD365 said...

Interesting review. I reluctantly attended the same course in Brighton yesterday (having been caught driving 35mph in a 30mph zone) but came away very positive about the way the course was delivered and the 'who, what, where, when, why' of keeping within the speed limits. Fortunately, there were few in the class who questioned the validity or relevance of the course (unlike the views expressed in this tired and predictable diatribe) and its delivery was a masterclass in keeping an audience engaged for four hours. Kudos to Andy and Stuart for that. Personally I am grateful to live in a country that boasts such a good road safety record and if these courses further serve to improve on that then so much the better.