Last night, I didn’t get three points on my licence. Which was nice – particularly since, after a Notice of Intended Prosecution plopped through my letterbox the other week, I’d been prepared for an addition to my collection.
Instead, I gladly paid up to go on a three-hour ‘Speed Awareness Course’. And I wouldn’t want the occasion to pass without finding out if the class’s experience of these educational opportunities is similar to mine.
The case for attending these things is utterly plain. Instead of paying your £60 fixed penalty and getting your points from the relevant authority, you book a course online with AA DriveTech, choose a date and time that’s convenient for you, and pay £97 for the privilege. Which is probably less than the increase in insurance premium that you would otherwise have to stump up if you took the points. So far, so un-quibble-able.
I showed up last night at an address in Ealing, West London, totally sure that, no matter what happened over the succeeding three hours, I was onto a winner. I was ready for my medicine. And it was unexpectedly palatable.
The course was conducted by a very jovial bloke called Patrick, who did a lot to diffuse the latent skepticism in a room full of people aggrieved about being caught speeding (mostly through the Limehouse tunnel, actually) and only begrudgingly grateful for the chance to avoid a lasting penalty.
Unfortunately, Patrick made a better joker than a teacher. In fact, the more I think about it, the more important this three-hour course seems – and the greater its deficiencies appear.
In a country where a licence is for life and we’ve yet to even mandate compulsory retests for pensionable drivers, it’s not often that you’ll get thirty average members of the driving population in a room, and have the opportunity to make them better. But this was one of ‘em.
You’d think, under the circumstances, you might mention one or two of the right things. The importance of maximum brake pedal pressure to a short stopping distance in a modern car with ABS, for example? Or of allowing additional stopping distance in bad weather? Of safe overtaking technique? Of checking the condition of your tyres occasionally? Or, say, of positioning your car on a rural road in order to maximize your visibility?
Patrick didn’t mention any of these things. He didn’t know that a minimum speed limit on UK motorways even existed, let alone what it might be. His three hours of advice included rather too much on how not to get caught for speeding in future, and rather too little on how not to get caught in accidents.
Here are some of Patrick’s choicest pearls:
“Don’t listen to fast music in your car; it’ll make you drive faster.”
“Leave your car in third gear in a 30 limit; it’ll be easier to hear the engine, and so you’ll instinctively know when you’re speeding.”
“Stop making up your own speed limits. It doesn’t matter where you are: if you can’t see a speed limit sign at any point, drive at 30mph until you see one. It’s safer.”
“You should never stop looking for pedestrians. I even look under trucks and buses!”