I had the pleasure of attending one of the government’s speed awareness courses recently in Gloucestershire.
I think the course was based on a false premise. That premise is that speed kills.
But speed is a mathematical concept, the ratio of distance moved by an object and the time it takes to do it.
It is not speed that kills, it is the inappropriate use of speed that kills. It is the inability of drivers to control their vehicles at a given speed that kills.
Where I live in Stroud, we have recently enjoyed the benefit of a new 20 mph speed restriction. A lot of mawkish and, I am afraid, sanctimonious remarks have appeared in the local media about how little children risk being mown down by maniacs racing around the streets.
In fact, the number of children, as pedestrians and cyclists, who were killed or seriously injured last year in my part of Stroud was zero.
In fact, the number of children, as pedestrians and cyclists, who were killed or seriously injured last year anywhere in Gloucestershire was zero.
While there are—obviously—some people on the road recklessly in love with their cars (I suspect that they are all under 25)—and they certainly need an intervention—on the whole the residents of Gloucestershire are not engaged in a death spree.
A wider view
Nevertheless, here are some other things which motorists in Gloucestershire, and everywhere else, also need to attend to if they are to avoid accidents (some of which might be more usefully attended to than speed):
1 the driver’s competence
2 the driver’s experience of driving in the situation they are currently in, and of driving generally
3 the regularity with which the driver is behind the wheel
4 the driver’s alertness (ingestion of alcohol and drugs, legal and illegal, may have a bearing here but also hunger, length of time driving, time since last sleeping)
5 the design of the car, particularly its brakes
6 the roadworthiness of the car, particularly its brakes
7 how much the car is loaded
8 the time of day—night or day, sunrise or sunset (people’s eyesight is less good at these times)
9 dazzle by the sun or by headlights
10 the weather and its effects on visibility (rain, hail etc, fog)
11 the weather and its effects on the road surface (water, ice, snow)
12 the state of the road surface, including potholes and different varieties of tarmac (concrete if you’re on the A417/9)
13 the design of the road, including its width, straightness or otherwise, and gradient
14 markings painted on the road, including whether they comply with regulations and are clear
15 traffic signs, including whether they comply with regulations
16 distractions at the roadside including those placed there by the Department of Transport (eg, flashing speed limit signs)
17 any distractions within the car—let’s assume the driver is not breaking the law by using a phone, there are still: children, other passengers, the radio or CD
18 other distractions outside the car—everything from hot air balloons to the moon in the sky, interesting people, shops, stupid posters, all the places you’re trying to get to, parking spaces and so on
19 the completely random, unpredictable and usually selfish, unthinking and unaware behaviour of cyclists
21 the car’s speed and, importantly, its acceleration or deceleration at any moment
22 these twenty one criteria as applied to each and every other driver in the vicinity—say one or two drivers in front, one or two behind, a couple coming in the opposite direction, and one waiting in a side road to pull out; total, say, seven. So, getting on for 150 other factors.
And, all of these factors must be taken into account. Personally, I think the distractions, and, to a lesser extent, naff road markings and signs, play just as big a role as speed in causing accidents.
However, at base, it is the drivers’ attitude that is arguably the biggest cause of all. And it is attitude that we need to addressed: not behaviour.
It was noticeable that most of the people on the course were like me, those who had inadvertently forgotten to slow down approaching a speed camera. In my case the offence occurred at 9:48 pm. I had driven that road hundreds of times. The camera was there because it was outside a school. There were no children around at 9:48 pm. (And you can’t do more than 10 mph down that road at 4 pm for the school buses parked both sides of the road.)
Most of the people there were in the forties or more. Each had hundreds of thousands miles under their belt. Noone died, noone was injured, noone was even involved when a speed camera flashed them because they were 1 mph over the 10% +2 rule.
The course was OK, though it was new and the trainers hadn’t adequately familiarised themselves with the content. The content had a regrettably mawkish bias towards children as victims of road accidents when there is no evidence that they represent a significant group at risk. This attempt to play on our emotions backfired because the trainers didn’t seem to know they had to get the class members into their emotions if it was to work. When recipients are in their thinking mode, they will rationalise such attempts as just the manipulation it is and resist it.
So, I am afraid, a wasted opportunity.
Whether the government should be spending our money on initiatives such as this is debatable. There are people on the road who are a danger to others, and this is usually because they have a bad attitude. They aren’t caught by speed cameras: they are caught as a result of reckless and dangerous behaviour. I know there are courses for these people already. But there should be more and they should be better, exploiting the full gamut of emotional intelligence to give the participants a chance to shift rather than the behavioural approach adopted on my course. (A behavioural approach was presumably chosen because it is easier to teach, and teach consistently. But, so what, if it is not up to the job?)
Let’s leave speed cameras for the purpose for which they were clearly installed: namely revenue generation.
Of course, if you are caught driving carelessly, recklessly or dangerously, the full force of the law should be thrown at you. But, let’s accept that, if you were stupid enough (like me) not to spot a camera (and they do paint them yellow), you pay £100 and vow to be more observant next time.
© 2015 Jeremy Marchant . image: Free images