On Friday October 23rd it was my privilege to attend a Speed Awareness Course, run by Leicestershire County Council at Syston. Yes. I admit it. Hands up. I was done for 36 mph in a 30 limit, on the Welford Road, on a three-lane dual carriageway, with barriers, and no pedestrians about.
Asked to explain why I was driving at that speed, I replied “Because I judged it was a safe and reasonable speed in the circumstances”, and I hold to that view. I have been driving for nearly 50 years. I have driven probably a million miles in that time. Apart from a few minor bumps, I have never (touch wood) had a significant accident. In a lifetime of driving, I have been done for speeding only three times (once in Singapore).
There were twenty-one victims in the audience, and they represented a cross-section of society. Young and old. Nine women. Three ethnic minorities. And they all struck me as perfectly reasonable, responsible citizens. One was a grandmother who had been taking her grandson to rugby practice. Another an elderly gentleman who had been taking an elderly lady to the station to catch a train. So far as I could judge, no lager louts, no tear-aways, no alcoholics, no joy-riders. Just safe, steady, reliable citizens. I suspect that most of them also thought that the speeds for which they were summonsed were reasonable in the circumstances.
Someone asked why speed limits could not be varied according to time of day, and the answer (quite reasonably) was that this would be too expensive (and perhaps too confusing). But it would be nice if the prosecuting authorities could exercise some discretion, and recognise that driving past a school at three in the afternoon is a rather different thing from driving past at three in the morning. Arbitrary and indiscriminate speed limits, coupled with cameras, are persecuting responsible drivers unfairly and squeezing the joy out of motoring.
Knowing that the course organisers could still apply points to the licence of any victim who “failed to cooperate”, I had taken a self-denying ordinance, determined to plead the Fifth Amendment rather than give replies that might incriminate me. In fact the event was relaxed and non-confrontational, but I stuck to my determination to avoid making trouble. Until, that was, they were inviting suggestions for the fact that most accidents take place on urban roads, rather than on rural roads or motorways. As several participants suggested “More congestion” or “more traffic”, I could not resist adding the suggestion: “more speed limits”.
But the real problem, both with speed cameras and with Speed Awareness Courses, is that they focus on one factor, speed, and ignore everything else. The instructor admitted that human error was a factor in 95% of accidents. Of course if speed were zero — if we never drove at all — presumably we could eliminate road accidents entirely. Yet speed is only the primary factor in a small minority of accidents.
There was little or no mention of inexperienced and inconsiderate driving; of competitive and aggressive driving; of lane-changing and tail-gating; of vehicle condition or road and weather conditions; or of drink and drugs. The powers that be love to focus on speed because (A) it is easy to measure; and (B) it is a nice little earner. But in doing so, they distort our approach to road safety and do us all a disservice. Thank heaven that it is Conservative policy to stop the proliferation of speed cameras.
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