No need for speed

speedcamera I’ve been thinking about speeding lately. Rather, the consequences of speeding.

In April, I was snapped by this speed camera in London doing 34mph in a 30mph limit. I didn’t realize it until a notice of intended prosecution arrived in the mail from the Metropolitan Police about a week later.

In the UK, admitting a traffic violation like this attracts a £60 fine plus three penalty points on your driving license. (If you don’t admit it, the police will institute court proceedings: the ‘intended prosecution’ into action, as it were.)

But depending on where you committed the offence, you might be offered an alternative – pay £95 to attend a 2½-hour educational workshop in lieu of the fine and points.

I remember the day and time when it happened: I was on my way to the Social Media Cafe (and running a bit late). So once I’d sent back the acknowledgement of the notice of intended prosecution confirming that, yes, I was the driver at the time, I got that offer as this scheme operates in the Metropolitan Police area.

As I have a wholly clean license – after 30 years of driving, not a single penalty point – I took up the offer.

And so earlier this month, I spent an afternoon in Ealing at a London Speed Awareness Workshop.

I have to admit that curiosity about the workshop as much as avoiding penalty points was a prime influence in accepting the police offer.

Like most drivers, I think, I’m of the view that I’m a safe driver, observing speed limits and generally driving in a way that’s no risk to others on the public roads.

And I suppose like most drivers, I often think that other drivers aren’t so good.

For me, as well as for the 19 others in the workshop that day, such views were tested via a computerized driving risk profile that took you through a range of scenarios you’d encounter in everyday driving on the roads where you had to take actions via a mouse as to what you were seeing on the computer screen.

One surprise result for me was my video speed test score which showed that I tend to drive faster than average, something I did not think I did.

All my other scores – on close following, perceptions of hazards, emotional reactions, attention/distraction and fatigue – were pretty good.

Doing the driving risk profile took about an hour followed by discussion and a presentation from the trainers.

We heard a lot of statistics about collisions (what used to be called ‘accidents’) and fatalities in the UK over the years

It’s hard to relate to big numbers, though, as they seem too remote to have any personal impact.

What did make a big impression for me was a video of a Thames Valley Police experiment showing a car at various speeds having to come to a full stop right in front of a cut-out figure of a girl standing in a road.

At 30mph, no problem at all: the driver stopped in good time. At 40mph, not a chance of stopping in time; the resulting collision would likely cause severe injuries if not death.

The big impression for me was what happened at 32mph, ie, just 2mph above the experiment’s speed limit.

The driver could not stop in time, hitting the cut-out figure of the girl which would have caused injuries: broken bones and the like.

So that’s what’s been in my mind a lot since the workshop – even being slightly above a posted speed limit, at a speed that I’m sure most people would think “what difference does 2 or 4mph make?”, can have devastating consequences.

I’m trying to be an even safer driver.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Armin

    Isn’t part of the problem that keeping to the speed limit isn’t good for your health?

    Keeping to the speed limit certainly increases my stress level a lot more than I would like it to. Why? Because if you do you almost invariably have someone tailgating you at a worryingly close distance within a fairly short time. Sometimes so close that you can’t even see their headlights in your mirror. I certainly notice my blood pressure going up when I see that.

    Now this isn’t an excuse to start speeding (I actually often slow down and increase the distance to the car in front of me even further, building in a safety margin for the i***t behind me), but I wouldn’t be surprised if for a lot of people the “escape reflex” kicks in and they speed up to escape the threat behind them.

    If your car has cruise control (makes it easier) I suggest the following experiment: Set it to exactly 70mph and drive on the motorway. From my experience on the M4 between Swindon and Reading (approx 40 miles) you will overtake on average 2-3 other cars (excluding lorries and coaches, which are restricted anyway), but will be passed by literally hundreds of cars.

  2. Chris Norton

    Great post Neville. I worked for one of the largest vehicle contract hire companies for about four years and we regularly had to do the driving tests including skid pans etc. The one thing that had a big effect on me was anti-lock brakes, the difference they make in the experiment you highlight in your post is amazing. You have a much better chance of steering around the cardboard cut-out and stopping safely but they are no substitute for sticking to the speed limit.

  3. Armin

    Problem is that a lot those techno-gizmos to an extent provide a false sense of security:

    Hey, I’ve got anti-lock brakes, so I’m safer! I can still steer the car and avoid obstacles!

    No, in a narrow road with cars parked both sides you can’t. No, in a lot of country lanes with hedges/ditches/cliffs/takeyourpick on each side you can’t. No, when your car is aquaplaning and you’re going 90 mph in pouring rain you can’t.

    Yes, on a motorway under good conditions you might be able to. If you’re not already in the back of the car in front of you because you were driving too close and had no chance to react.

  4. Jeanette

    Thank you for sharing about the two miles. I needed that since I love to drive fast. It’s true in California–the drivers will tailgate if you’re not going 80 in the fast lane. We have cars weaving in and out of traffic at 90 and 100 MPH. When I got stopped recently driving fast over our coastal mountain range, I got out of a ticket because I didn’t pass any cars and I complained that the cop stopped me just because I drive a Mustang. (He didn’t stop the other cars surrounding me.) Maybe we should all go back to traffic school.

  5. neville

    Armin, the cruise control experiment is a good one. I sometimes do set the control when on the M4 (not heading into London, though, just too much traffic) or M40 and it’s as you say – if you set it for 70mph, everyone overtakes you.

    Chris, the concluding point you make says it all: no substitute for sticking to the speed limit.

    Tailgating is a problem here, too, Jeanette. There’s always that sense of pressure from everyone else on the road which sometimes manifests itself in pretty stressful ways like tailgating. Hard to deal with sometimes if you’re on a narrow country road, easier on a motorway (just let the tailgater idiot go past).

    Still, if it ever happens that any of us hits a small girl on the road in a 30mph limit and we’re driving faster than that limit, no amount of excuses – cruise control, anti lock brakes, tailgating, whatever – will help us.

  6. rarestone

    I hope that many will learn from your post. I believe that a lot of people overspeed, and I agree with Armin, that in motorways people drive way over the speed limit. At 70mph for sure, you will be overtaken by many cars.

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