My crime was committed in Oxford, in Stacey's family wagon. A speed camera caught me on the Banbury Road on my way to a lunch at Brown's restaurant – a comfort place I've been going to since I was seven years old.
It clocked me at 35 miles an hour in a 30-mile zone. The inevitable notice of prosecution and "hand over the money" demand landed on my doormat a couple of days later.
Three points and a fine – what a hassle, but wait, what was this? There was an alternative on offer.
If I agreed to attend a "Speed Awareness Scheme", then I would not get three points or a fine. I'd still have to pay for the course but I just had to turn up and listen "with a positive attitude" for four hours. I signed up and, two days after my return from Beijing, set off for my "reprogramming".
The session was in an anonymous industrial estate near Milton Keynes. It was like going back to school. We "offenders" parked up our lethal weapons and trudged towards the entrance like recalcitrant truants. It reminded me of jury service – a real random assortment of people – all classes and ages that would never normally be in a room together.
We were all very defensive, some sitting sulkily and others trying to appear relaxed. We were in the blandest of bland "classrooms" adorned with "Speed kills" posters.
I was guessing we were going to be shown lots of photographs of dead children and mangled cars in an attempt to shock us into line. Having just come back from Beijing where I'd seen four pedestrians badly hit by cars in just two weeks, I was not unaware of the dangers that cars can pose, but this was hardly the traffic chaos that was the Chinese capital. This was Oxford, for God's sake.
We weren't shown any horrid photos – in fact, it was a bit like one of those uber-dull Power-Point presentations.
We had to guess where most collisions take place (in urban areas) and where most fatalities occur (rural roads). Motorways, it turns out, are the safest of places to drive, with no head-on traffic (except when the occasional senile driver decides to go the wrong way) and little distraction, apart from the odd junction.
We were in the borderline offenders group (34-38mph in a 30-mile zone). Everyone felt it was ridiculous that we'd been done for such a trivial offence. This was the only issue that the day dealt with convincingly.
Eighty per cent of people hit by a car doing 30 miles an hour survive. Fifty per cent survive being hit at 35 miles an hour, while only 10 per cent survive at 40 miles an hour.
There was also a very persuasive argument that going even two miles an hour faster has a far greater knock-on effect on braking distances than I would have thought.
Then, there was bit of propaganda on behalf of Thames Valley Police and its defence of speed cameras. A large portion of the money raised from speeding fines is "ring-fenced" for road safety projects. I asked our teacher what the percentage was. This was not public knowledge, but he said that the Treasury and the police, who get the rest, assured him it was a "significant" amount ... yeah, right.
By now the end was in sight and everyone was relaxing.
"What's a sign that there's fog about?" asked teacher.
"We can't see anything?" I suggested.
"You stop texting?" tried another wag.
I'm not sure how much good the session did us – I did think about stuff, but then nearly hit a cyclist on my way out. I think I need a chauffeur – anyone interested, apply here.Reuse content