“Wrist Slap Wednesday”


I made no secret on Twitter of the fact that I was off to get my wrist slapped on Wednesday night.    I had been “flashed” doing 38mph in a 30mph zone about a month ago and this was my punishment.

I knew as soon as I saw the van parked in the layby that I had been caught.   I just thanked my lucky stars it hadn’t been half a mile earlier or they would have also caught me eating a sausage and egg McMuffin.    Taking J back to school on Monday morning, the road is one I know well, was clear, sun was shining, he and I we were laughing and joking about how naughty it was to be eating McDonalds for breakfast.   I wasn’t concentrating.

I groaned and swore.  Loudly.   Repeatedly.  J laughed.  So I swore again.    I have a clean licence and really didn’t want points or to have to pay a fine.    But realised I was guilty so didnt have a lot of choice.

So when a gold edged invitation from AA Drivetech dropped through my letterbox one morning inviting me to attend a “Speed Awareness Course” and keep my clean licence I jumped at it.   Thames Valley Police believe that education rather than punishment is a much better way of dealing with us “offenders”.     So they have teamed up with this company to provide these courses in an effort to make people consider how they drive and to see if they make them safer on the roads.  You pay £80 for the privilege but you don’t get the points.   Sounds like a deal to me.

Having booked it I got quite blase about it  being a wrist slap and how it would probably be four hours of being told off for being naughty and being shown videos of crashes designed to scare us all into never getting into third gear again.   People warned me it was mind-numbling boring, as well as arse-numbing.  I just wanted to get it over and done with and get out and home to The Apprentice.

What actually happened couldnt be further from that perception.      Our “lecturer” was great, and the whole presentation was interactive, even down to having “voting buttons” just like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire!!  How exciting.

It didn’t surprise me when quizzed that I knew my speed limits on all classes of roads.   Most people didn’t.   In fact none of us knew the distance at which you need to be able to read a number plate (20.5 Metres in case you are curious).

You see, I know the limits.  I choose, quite often, to ignore them.  I don’t mean that I am a girl racer (Mr B would disagree as he can only be a passenger with me when he is drunk) but more often than not I am doing what I think I can safely do on the road, rather than the law dictating.     I think I know my car and I know I can stop if needed.     My job means that I know “My Patch”.   I know the roads around here.  I know the hidden dips, where the deceptive bends are, the tight turnings etc.   And therefore, in my head, I can drive them how I see fit.

Only now do I know how arrogant that is.   I don’t know these roads at all.   In fact do you know your roads?   Do you look at the surface and know how that shiny bit where the road surface has worn away will impact on your car when you hit the brakes?   What is the speed limit on your road?   Do you know where the nearest speed limit sign is?     Do you know that if there are street lights at regular intervals the road is always a 30mph zone?      If you are police driver you need to be able to describe the last seven signs you drove past.    Could you do that?   Think of a route you drive regularly, can you name and understand every sign from memory?  I bet you don’t even see them.   One of the phrases we heard was “more paint / more restraint”.   There are markings on that road for a reason.  Be it solid lines.  Be it an arrow.  Or “SLOW”.   Whatever it is, it is not there for decoration.

We were shown a photograph of a small stretch of road and asked to identify hazards.  Easy I thought.   I immediately saw three and felt quite chuffed.   Then we were told there were 28.   Twenty Eight?!!!!!   Yep.  Twenty Eight.   Slowly as a group we got them all and I saw that 10 metres of road as I have never seen a stretch of road before.  A stretch of road where somebody had been killed by a local driver.  Somebody who drove that route every day, who thought they knew the road.  Until they came over a small hill and found a car in the middle of road waiting to turn right and hit it, pushing it in to the path of a four tonne lorry coming the other way.  The road had a limit of 60mph but actually that was too fast, it didnt allow enough to stop.  So whilst he was not speeding, he was actually going to too quickly for that piece of road.

Where do you think the highest proportion of collisions occur?   Motorways because everybody is travelling faster?   Nope.  Only 4% of collisions happen on motorways.  In fact most motorway accidents are shunts with an average speed of 20mph.

The highest number of collisions happen on urban roads.   A whopping 71%.     Yet where do most deaths from driving occur?   On rural roads where only 25% of collisions happen but actually 60% of deaths.     That statistic horrifies me.    Youngsters learn to drive, generally in towns and cities, yet they are most likely to die, along with the rest of us, on country roads.  Stretches of roads and in conditions they may have never driven whilst with somebody to guide them.    Just because the speed limit is 60mph is it safe to go at that speed along that country lane, with over hanging branches, in shade where water has pooled from the rain earlier, with mates in the back so the weight distribution is different?

Did you know that for every fixed speed camera that have to been three deaths or serious injuries at that spot in the past three years.  Three.   And for every mobile van site there has to have been one.     Statistics show that cameras work and as much as we all hate them surely if they save just one life they are worth it.     They cost £18,000 to install and they can pay for themselves very quickly.

The reconstructions of what happens to pedestrians when they are hit by a car were a real eye opener.  Braking at 30mph means you don’t hit the pedestrian generally because you have enough space to stop.   Doing just 32mph means you hit them.   38mph as I was doing, and you can kill them.    We saw the result of a car that had hit a 14 year old, the car was doing 35mph and the young lad was thrown 16metres before he hit the road.   He is now in a wheelchair, and the driver has never got in a car again.

We also saw the result of two cars that had ignored a “fog” digital sign on the motorway.   A driver in front had fallen asleep and had hit the central reservation.  Car behind, Blase Barrow maybe, ignored the fog sign despite it being thick fog and hit the other car.   There then, in 29 seconds were 54 collisions on that stretch of road.    Half a minute, ten dead from 54 collisions.   Happened 20 years ago on the M4.     Where as a police officer or paramedic do you start?

I walked out and had to sit in the car for five minutes to clear my head.

Funnily enough doing the school run this morning E said to me “you driving more slowly then, Mum?”   Yes.   Yes I am.

And I urge you to do the same.   And not just more slowly, more alert.   More observant.  I think we should all be made to do that course.

It wasn’t a wrist slap.   It was an eye opener.

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  • As the son of an Traffic cop, in fact, one of the longest serving in Thames Valley, I agree.

    My father taught me to be much more observant and look more than the next two or three cars in front, more like the next 10 and also to be aware of those to the side and behind you.

    It is truly terrifying at times how badly we can all drive.

  • “Statistics show that cameras work” is unfortunately not as true as those on speed awareness courses would like you to believe, as every paper showing this ignores the well known phenomenon of “regression to the mean”. If you observe something based on a previously high observed event rate you usually find the event rate decreases.

    Some speed awareness courses, eg on Hampshire, are more honest on this point.

  • Thanks for sharing your experiences. Sadly speed cameras are more often used cynically than legitimately, in locations where the police know they’ll pick up lots of fines rather than because the road is dangerous.

    However, you’re right about inappropriate speed. The 60 limit in the country never means that 60 is necessarily safe. The NSL sign used to mean “derestricted”, so drivers had to choose the appropriate speed not assume — as they do now — that the limit’s 60 so it must be safe. This approach has led increasingly to drivers believing that driving below the speed limit means they’re safe, hence the authorities constantly reducing limits because no speed limit can ever be completely safe.

    We need to get back to giving drivers information and allowing them to select the right speed for the conditions. This puts the responsibility on the driver for being safe, which might encourage them (us!) to drive more carefully and observantly rather than watching the speedo. Because of course 38 in a 30 limit may be perfectly safe at some times and even 30 be highly unsafe at others — but drivers should be responsible for deciding and for the consequences of their decisions.

    Thanks again for sharing. I hope your course did make you more aware of the consequences of inappropriate speed. I’ve found defensive driving courses to be very valuable — I would say essential — in enhancing my driving skills. It’s worth spending some money to increase awareness of dangers and to know where to look. One book I’ve found highly useful in this context is “Mind Driving” from http://www.skilldriver.org.

  • I booked to go on the speed awareness course in December i had to cancel my 1st course due to severe pains in my right hand side. I was told i could rebook when i was better after going through test after test and eating pain killers for all of December and January the Police wrote and told me time up i should have completed the course. I have been to court today and the have said that you have to attend the course in a certain time frame even when you are in pain and cannot sit down for longer periods than an hour at a time. They thought i was stalling for time why are we all tarred with the same brush.

  • Rural roads scare me to death. Folk drive at 60 when I’m only doing 20 sometimes because they terrify me so much.

  • Statistics and courses all very well BUT
    There are many instances of mobile cameras not at accident locations.
    The main problem is that less than 10% of accidents are due to speed in excess of the posted limit (stated by Avon and Somerset Police)
    So where is the effort on the other 90% of accidents?
    Of course that wouldn’t generate any money or camera business!