Safety course for fast drivers would cut deaths, says AA

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All drivers caught speeding should be allowed to choose between incurring penalty points and taking a driving safety course, motoring organisations said.

All drivers caught speeding should be allowed to choose between incurring penalty points and taking a driving safety course, motoring organisations said.

The AA said the system should be extended across the country after the introduction of a scheme giving drivers this choice helped lead to a reduction in the fatality rate in Northamptonshire.

However, RoadPeace, a road safety organisation, said the move risked trivialising driving offences and made drivers the only offenders who could choose between punishment and education.

The Speed Awareness Workshops have been operating in Northamptonshire for nearly five years, and since 2000 the number of road accident fatalities in the county has dropped from 76 a year to 47.

The workshops, which normally last two days, teach drivers that the chances of a pedestrian dying in a collision are dramatically increased if a car is travelling at 40mph rather than 20mph, as well as discussing driver's behaviour and attitude.

They are backed by the RAC Foundation and the AA, and several other police forces are considering adopting the course. The Government is considering ways to cut down speeding rates amid predictions that one in 10 drivers will be given a ticket next year.

Yesterday the AA said the system could make a lasting change in drivers' behaviour if the workshops were extended across the country.

Andrew Howard, head of road safety for the AA, said there was already a trend towards courses as well as fines for drink-driving and careless driving offences, and the value of educating drivers so they did not repeat mistakes was increasingly recognised. "It's much better if we can get someone to pay to come to learn the difficulties of speeding than it is if we just penalise them and take the money away and give them points," he said.

Mr Howard said the courses would also help distinguish those drivers "who are ignorant from the people who are not innocent".

However, Zoe Stow, chairwoman of RoadPeace, said the courses should not be an alternative to points but an additional element of the penalty for speeding.

"Education is separate from punishment and ideally they should go together. It should not be possible for someone to say they want to be educated and not punished," she said.

"Some drivers might already have a lot of penalty points and going on the course would be the difference between continuing to drive and losing their licence, as they deserve. It is downgrading driving offences.

"A shoplifter would not be given the choice of going on a course rather than having the appropriate punishment. People should not see driving offences as trivial. They can kill or put someone in a wheelchair for life."

A Home Office spokesman said the Northamptonshire scheme was a local project and said it had no plans to introduce it nationwide.

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