Last Autumn I was visiting relations near Worthing on the south coast, and unbeknown to me was clocked doing 57 mph in a 50 mph speed limit area. The forbidding-looking Penalty Notice in bold black print arrived a week later, which informed me that I could either have points on my licence or I could attend a half-day speed awareness driving course in the geographical area where the offence was committed – a two-hour drive away from Bristol.
I opted for the latter (most people do) and presented myself on a cold January morning just after New Year. I had been on one of these courses before in Bristol six years earlier, and knew what to expect, but was interested to find out whether the focus of the course had improved or varied from one region to another. Not really in both cases: it left me once again wanting to have a rant – and this time I’ve got a blog on which to do it.
The speakers rambled through the importance of keeping to the speed limit, the potential fatal results to yourself and others if you don’t, the distances you need in which to come to a halt after braking according to the speed you’re doing and the prevailing weather conditions, a terrifying video about an accident, quizzes to test our knowledge on speeds, distances, survival rates, percentage of different types of accidents in the United Kingdom, the dizzying multiple rules about speed limits according to what sort of road, how many lamp posts there are as you’re going through a village (yes, really) and so on. This was all very worthy and valid, and it was important to be reminded of these facts.
My rant is that this is simply not enough.
Give me the facts, certainly – but it’s essential to address the psychological reasons why people speed, carve each other up and are generally inconsiderate on the road. We need to be forced to confront ourselves and our insane behaviour when we’re behind the wheel, and to be given the tools to deal with it.
This is what drivers need above all:
Road Rage. How to stop ourselves from feeling road rage – what anger management arguments will stop us in our tracks? How should we react when others show road rage towards us? How should we deal with a driving situation caused by another vehicle which is patently unfair to us?
Age. The age factor – the younger and more hormonal men and women are, the more intolerant and quick to anger we are likely to feel. The older we are the more likely we are to make mistakes;
Unrelated problems. When we’re on the road, how to compartmentalise our personal problems so that they don’t affect our driving;
Asleep at the wheel. How to deal with tiredness and general lack of concentration – apart from opening the window and turning on the radio;
Competitive behaviour. How to deal with competitiveness on the road: I’m not talking about being boy racers here, but a situation that happens to me every morning, on a stretch of motorway with a 50 mph speed limit. The car in the next lane is large, and doing (say) 50 mph, and I’m in a small car being squeezed over, with another car behind me – so tempting to up the speed slightly to 55 mph “just to get passed him”, yet we risk being caught by speed cameras.
Lorries. European lorry drivers urgently need to be taught all this on refresher courses every year, as they drive for a living, and tend to use their large vehicles to gain advantage – like the classic bully in the playground. The type of accidents their mistakes cause are far more serious. I’m tired of hearing that x number of people were killed because the continental driver forgot that we drive on the left.
There is one area – drinking and driving – where in this country all these aspects are dealt with strongly via powerful advertising and in other media, and I understand that drink and drive accidents are lower than in many other parts of the world. I believe we have the Scandinavian example to thank for that.
The course was a half day one – and I believe that what I’ve mentioned above needs at least another half day, and should not be restricted to people who have been caught speeding. We should all be forced to go on these courses with refreshers every two years, or risk losing our licences. The extra cost should be met by us the drivers.
At both courses six years apart I asked the question about dealing with these psychological issues, which after all lie at the bottom of most road incidents. I was told there were no plans to incorporate this into their course, and it would be too expensive anyway. None of the speakers said “Good idea though”. One of the attendees was a barrister (lawyer) of some standing in London who drives a sports car and in a jokey fashion conveyed how he was rather proud of the way he had avoided speeding offences (up until this one, that is). I would say he was in dire need of being pulled up by his bootstraps and being forced to go on a driving psychology course, if it only existed.
Is this a woman’s viewpoint then? Does male pride come into it?
This is a crowded little country where most adults own cars, goods are rarely transported by rail and lorries from the continent are now permitted free access, including the very heavy goods vehicles, for which roads and bridges have been strengthened. This is a lethal cocktail, and it is unlikely that drivers will be persuaded to give up their cars for public transport.
Do you have the same problems in your country? Do drivers respect speed limits? Do they respect drink and drive laws?
I’d love to know your thoughts on this – if you think I’m wrong, do tell me why.
From Lonicera's digital archive