Learning to become a slowcoach

LEARNING TO BECOME A SLOWCOACH

 You’re supposed to take things more slowly as you grow older. I appear to be speeding up.

It was my misfortune some time ago to be caught exceeding the 30mph limit by a speed camera. Sure enough, a few days later, I received a missive from PC Plod asking who was driving my car. Unlike a cabinet minister I could name (allegedly, of course), I couldn’t think of anybody to pick up the points for me, so I owned up. Another few days passed and I received a second letter from the boys in blue. This one invited me to attend a ‘speed awareness workshop’. If I did, I wouldn’t receive three penalty points, wouldn’t have to tell my insurance company. That would be an end to the matter. The only downside seemed to be that it cost 97 quid, £37 more than fixed penalty fine. I promptly paid the money and signed up for the workshop.

A week or so before attending, I had lunch with four school friends. It turned out that three of my chums had been to these workshops in the past couple of years. It seems to be the sort of thing that otherwise law-abiding citizens regularly attend. In fact, I know of at least two other generally law-abiding people who belong to the same social website as me who have been to speed awareness workshops. One of these fellow members said that at her workshop, which took place in Northampton, there was a lady who’d been nicked speeding with her horsebox in tow. Which reminds me, be careful not to be caught too far from home. The workshops take place in the police area in which you are nabbed. Luckily for me, the scene of my misdemeanour was Bounds Green Road in North London. I was able to select a workshop in Islington within walking distance of my house.

So, to the workshop: it began at 7.15 in the morning and finished at 10.15. There was a 20-minute break in the middle, with tea and coffee provided. As I took my seat at a long rectangular table, I looked around at my fellow miscreants. They all looked pretty respectable. We had a smattering of smartly-dressed businessmen, a couple of well turned out young women, a young man who I later found out ran a chain of sports clothing stores in Hertfordshire. Not a boy racer in sight.

Last to take her seat was a hospital doctor who was on call. She was allowed to leave her mobile phone on in case the hospital needed her. The rest of us weren’t. She had been done for driving over Tower Bridge at 24mph. Like many people, I had no idea that the limit on this London landmark is 20mph. The man running the workshop, let’s call him Pete, said that about 25 per cent of the delegates, as we were called, were nicked on Tower Bridge. When asked why there was such a low limit he said it was to protect the bridge from damage. I would have thought that harm to the structure would be more likely to come from a mishandled ship than a speeding car, but what do I know. Lorries use the bridge, so I guess that’s the point of the lower limit.

The workshop, which might be described as an interactive Power Point presentation, licked along at a gallop, which was appropriate, as it turned out. Pete asked us why the speed limit in towns was set at 30 miles per hour. ‘Because at that speed pedestrians who are hit come to less harm’, suggested Sports Shop Man. ‘No’, said Pete, ‘it was decided in 1903, they didn’t know that then’. He then told us that in the early part of the last century 30mph was chosen because it was the fastest speed a horse could gallop. The powers that be didn’t think cars should be allowed to go any quicker.

Other little known factoids poured from Pete’s lips with increasing regularity. I now know the national speed limit that governs trucks, coaches and white vans, in case I ever find myself driving any of these vehicles. (Quite likely, with the way my pension’s going, a second career might well beckon.) I learned that any road with streetlights is subject to a 30mph limit, unless otherwise signed. It doesn’t mean that if there are no lights in a village you can roar through it like Lewis Hamilton. There are many exceptions.

We had to guess the percentage of deaths that occurred in urban areas, rural areas and on motorways. The delegates on our table were quite good at this. We got the figures almost right. Most people are killed on country roads, not in towns or on motorways – an astonishing 60 per cent. I knew this figure would be high because I have spent a lot of time driving in Herefordshire. It’s carnage down there. Motorways are the safest roads (four per cent of fatalities); towns, a relatively modest 36 per cent, due to lower traffic speeds. However, cyclists and motorcyclists account for a disproportionately high percentage of these urban deaths.

In the break I discovered that one of my fellow delegates had travelled all the way down from Manchester to attend the workshop. She was another driver who had fallen foul of the 20mph speed limit on Tower Bridge. Another delegate, I found out, was a bus driver who’d been done for speeding while at the wheel of his bus. ‘Single or double-decker’, I asked him. ‘Double-decker’. Good effort, I thought, most of the buses I catch seem to crawl along. I should have asked him which route so I could look out for him – though I guess he’ll be going a lot slower now.

After the break, or perhaps before it (I can’t remember which), Pete showed us a video that demonstrated the difference speed could make in collisions with pedestrians. A police car, driven by a class one police driver, first braked at 30mph, narrowly avoiding hitting a cardboard cut out that represented a pedestrian. The driver then repeated the exercise at progressively higher speeds, each time the harm to the pedestrian became greater until, at 38mph, the pedestrian was deemed to have been killed.

Here and there during the workshop, Pete repeated useful aide-memoires, for example, ‘twenty’s plenty, forty’s naughty’. He also showed us a slide with the word ‘COAST’ written vertically down the left hand side. One by one, he revealed what these letters stood for: Concentration, Observation, Anticipation, Space and Time. If the last two sound like a venture into the world of astro physics, bear with me. Each of these words represents a quality that you should endeavour to incorporate into your driving. Common sense, really, but how many of us actually allow ourselves enough time to react to an unexpected situation, or enough space to stop in an emergency without hitting anything?

So what did I think of the three hour workshop? Well, as an advertising man I know that you should never stop learning, so the opportunity to re-evaluate my driving skills – if only in theory – was welcome. And I have to say, I have been to advertising presentations that were shorter, but seemed longer and more tedious.

If you get the chance, go to one of these workshops. Not only will you avoid three penalty points, you will also learn stuff that will make you think more about the way you drive. Just remember, though, not to get nicked too far from home. An expensive overnight stay in a distant town, as was the case with the lady from Manchester, might take some of the gloss off avoiding the penalty points. Of course, best of all, try not to get caught in the first place. I now know the only foolproof way to do this is to obey the speed limit. If only I’d remembered that before driving along Bounds Green Road.

 

Copyright: Michael Everett 2013

 

 

 

 

About Mike Everett

I am a freelance creative director and writer of all forms of communication.

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