I’ve been driving for almost 30 years and in that time my motoring record has remained largely unblemished - one fixed penalty in 1998 for taking a cheeky right turn down a restricted road.
I’ve got a full no claims bonus, I’ve never been done for drink driving (because I don’t drink-drive), and I’ve never been done for speeding . . . at least not until recently.
My clean record was, in all honesty, more an example of good fortune than textbook driving, and my winning streak came to an abrupt end as I was driving into town one lunchtime in November.
I was heading in on a wide road with steady traffic and was, in my defence, ‘just keeping up with the flow’ of other drivers, officer.
Round a wide-angling blind bend I went - straight into the glare of a waiting camera van.
I stood on the brakes but . . . too late, they’d got me.
The notification arrived in the post a week or so later, and after I’d shared my views of policing priorities with my wife and, frankly, anybody else who would listen (why don’t they spend more time catching criminals? . . . sort of thing), I filled out the form and sent it back.
I was, indeed, the driver of the clapped out Saab estate caught on camera some days earlier.
I was gutted. I had a clean driving licence. I had always had a clean driving licence, and I didn’t really want the deduction of three points, a sixty quid fine, or the inevitable hammering of my insurance premium that would follow.
So when, as an alternative, I was offered the chance to go on a speed awareness course as an alternative, I jumped at the chance.
All I had to do was book in and rock up at the appointed time - after forking out the lion’s share of £100 for the privilege.
This was more than the fine - but it offered value for money in terms of the potential insurance I would save.
Plus, more of the money raised from these courses goes directly back to police forces - if you pay the fine it just goes straight to the Government.
Now I wasn’t feeling overly charitable towards the ‘boys in blue’ at this point, but I was very aware that our police forces are facing a huge funding crisis at present, and pound for pound I would sooner give them my money than the Treasury.
So off I went on a cold and miserable Sunday morning just before Christmas to the specified venue.
The course started at 8am sharp and we were told we needed to be there by 7.45am with identification - don’t be late and don’t forget your ID. If you do there’s a very good chance you won’t be admitted and will have to re-book and, more alarmingly, pay again.
We were a mixed bag - every age and type, from boy-racer types to women in their later middle-age, plus one unfortunate OAP who did forget his ID and was sent packing.
I was expecting a lecture and was hoping to take my four-hour ‘telling off’ while dozing gently at the back.
But this was not to be.
The course is actually very interactive - you have to answer questions on a regular basis to show that you’ve been paying attention.
It was also quite interesting.
I found out, for example, that the majority of pedestrians injured by speeding drivers are hurt or killed in built-up areas. In speeding terms, this means people breaking the limit in areas where you should be doing 30mph or less. That was me.
The biggest number of driver deaths and serious injuries take place on country roads - cars colliding head-on at high speeds, cars hitting trees.
Motorways are, by and large, our safest roads.
We were also taught how to read the road, and shown a video which portrayed stopping distances in a much more graphic way than I remember from my Highway Code days.
If you are driving at 30mph and someone steps out in front of you, it will take you 23 metres (75 feet) to stop - of which more than a third is reaction time, before your foot even hits the brake.
If you’re doing twenty then it’s much less - effectively the length of three cars.
If you’re doing forty then it ramps up significantly - it’s going to take you 36 metres to stop, minimum.
There’s also impact speed to consider. If you’re driving past a school and you observe the 20mph signs, you should be able to stop in the length of three cars. As long as the pedestrian doesn’t step out right in front of you then you should be able to avoid causing them injury.
If you’re doing 30mph in that 20mph zone and that person steps out three car lengths in front of your vehicle, you are going to hit them at around 27mph - this is going to cause similar injuries to them falling from a third floor window onto hard ground.
Anything above that, there is every likelihood that you will kill them.
So, I’ve learnt my lesson and I now try to watch my speed - which I have noticed seems to annoy other drivers immensely.
As an experiment, I decided to drive to work sticking rigidly to the speed limit. It took about ten seconds before I was being tailgated on a duel carriageway at 70mph, and I wasn’t even in the outside lane. On the backroads it was much worse - with other drivers ‘urging’ me to speed up in 40 and 50mph zones. At 30, the guy driving the van behind me was so close that he could not have avoided hitting me if I’d had to break - and would have added his speed to my impact if I was breaking to avoid a pedestrian.
And this, sadly, is the cause of the problem - we may want to drive responsibly, but a considerable number of other road-users do not share this view.
Perhaps we all need to do speed awareness courses on a regular basis - not just as a punishment, but as a way of making us all better drivers.