More than a quick fix

Instead of paying a fine or pleading not guilty, CJ Schüler accepts the third way - a speeding awareness course
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Last week the Government announced that mobile radar speed traps are to be used to enforce the 70mph limit on the M4 in Wiltshire. It provoked an outcry from the RAC that the move is designed simply to raise revenue, and will not improve safety.

Last week the Government announced that mobile radar speed traps are to be used to enforce the 70mph limit on the M4 in Wiltshire. It provoked an outcry from the RAC that the move is designed simply to raise revenue, and will not improve safety.

Enforcement of speed limits is an emotive issue, but it can involve a genuinely calming, educative and rehabilitatory aspect.

Last autumn, I was bowling along the A4074 when I passed through the village of Nuneham Courtenay. I scarcely noticed the place, but something must have registered, because I slowed down from 50 to 36mph. Too little, too late: a week or two later, the penalty notice arrived from Thames Valley police: I'd been caught by a speed camera.

Normally, in these circumstances, you have two options: defend the charge, or get three points on your licence and a £60 fine. Because I was caught in Thames Valley and not speeding so badly, I was given another choice: to attend a speed awareness course. The scheme has been running since 2003, and is only available in certain areas, including Thames Valley, Avon and Somerset, Lancashire and Warwickshire, though the plan is to roll it out nationwide in three to four years.

The course costs £71 - more than the £60 fine, but you don't get any points on your licence. And you don't have to disclose it to your insurance company.

So, last week I drove - slowly - to Crowthorne, in Berkshire, for my session. There are 20 speeders on each course, though in our case one didn't turn up. Of the 19 who did, 12 were men and seven women. All had been driving for at least 10 years.

All of us were thirtysomethings - experienced drivers with a hitherto clean licence caught between 35 and 37mph. Had we been doing more than 37mph, it would have been a straight fine and points, with no option of attending the course.

The session lasts three hours. The first part consists of 40 minutes' work at a computer terminal, and involves a perception and performance questionnaire.

The psychological profiling includes a series of statements for which you have to click on one of a range of options, from "disagree strongly" to "agree strongly". You also have to fill in the Epworth sleepiness scale (go to www.drugdigest.org/DD/HRA/Sleepiness/, if you want to try this).

Then there is a series of simulations to gauge hazard and speed perception, and space awareness. You watch a video taken from the dashboard of a car as it moves through a busy urban street. Whenever you perceive a hazard, you click the mouse. At the end, you are given a print-out of your score.

Then there's a talk about stopping distances and reaction times. It also looks at the reasons for breaking the 30mph limit. We were asked how fast we were prepared to drive in good conditions on an open motorway. One woman stunned the room by admitting to having driven at 140mph.

The course is designed to dispel any illusion that driving a few miles over the 30mph limit is not a serious matter. Does it work? More than 25,000 drivers have now passed through the course; and only 4 per cent reoffend within two years.

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