What is it like to do a speed awareness course? Here’s what I learned

Andrew Papworth recently took a speed awareness course. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Andrew Papworth recently took a speed awareness course. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Andrew Papworth writes about his recent speed awareness course - and how he believes they can educate speeding drivers for the better.

So, I have a confession.

A little while ago, I was caught by police travelling at 38mph in a 30mph zone of the A12, at Wrentham.

It is tempting to try and make excuses – I was in a rush, I was only just over the threshold for a speeding fine, I wasn’t putting anyone else in immediate danger.

All of those ‘excuses’ are, of course, utterly unjustified. Going 8mph faster for a small section of the journey made hardly any difference to my journey time. Okay, no accident happened - but what if it had?

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And I wasn’t ‘just’ 2mph over the threshold for a fine, but more than 25% over the maximum speed allowed for the road. It was a stupid mistake.

I was fortunate enough to be offered a speed awareness course, which costs £90 but means your licence isn’t endorsed with any penalty points.

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I must admit that I was a little wary of what the course would involve.

You have visions of a strict police officer treating you like a criminal, lecturing you on how many children you could’ve killed and playing gory videos of crashes to show you exactly what speeding can do.

Not that I could remotely complain if so. After all, I broke the law.

However, I have to say it was as far away from that as you can imagine - and all the better for it.

The course was led not by a police officer but an excellent professional driver trainer - naturally, over Microsoft Teams given the current coronavirus pandemic.

What struck me throughout was not only his understanding of the technical aspects of driving, but the psychology behind it – vital if we are to stop more people (like me) speeding on our roads.

He understood, for example, that many people on speed awareness courses do not set out to brazenly put other people’s lives at risk. Instead, many errors arise through the wrong attitudes or simple misunderstandings.

The first part of the course therefore looked at how to correctly identify speed limits, as many people get caught speeding because they think they are in 40mph zone instead of 30mph.

I’ve no doubt my driving instructor probably told 17-year-old me that streetlights are indicators of 30mph limits. However, it had certainly long vanished from my memory after 15 years on the road. Early on, the course had already taught me something.

The most striking part of the two-and-a-half-hour session was a video on stopping distances.

There was nothing graphic here, but simple footage showing a car trying to stop at different speeds.

As you can imagine, the difference in stopping time between 70mph and 80mph is quite stark – but what surprised me most is the difference just 1mph makes.

At 30mph, the standard stopping distance on a dry and sunny day is 23metres. At 31mph, the car is still travelling at 8mph at the 23-metre point.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve probably all crept a little over the limit occasionally. Just that 1mph could be the difference between hitting another car – or, worse, a person – and not.

Many of us can also perhaps be guilty of using the speed limit as some sort of target, regardless of the weather or surroundings.

However, the tutor encouraged to drive to the conditions (albeit always within the speed limit) instead, for example by going more slowly in icy conditions or in a built-up area where a pedestrian could accidentally step into the road.

There was also some advice on how to deal with tailgaters – you should slow down, not speed up – and what causes bad driving decisions.

There can, of course, be many reasons, but the biggest enemy seems to be stress. Find ways of driving in a calmer frame of mind, and we will all drive better.

Of course, it would disingenuous to suggest I was chomping at the bit to do speed awareness course. However, I found it thoroughly enlightening and I now think more people should do them.

Sometimes, fines and points on a driving licence will be the only way to deal with some speeders. However, as the trainer said on my course, these cannot positively educate people like me on the mistakes they have made – and I, suspect, are still making on a daily basis.

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