Jude Collins

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

I confess and make a firm purpose of amendment

A young Chinese student walks past Rolls-Royce's flagship showroom in downtown Beijing December 12, 2010. While in traditional markets luxury car makers might still be feeling the effects of the global financial crisis of 2008, in China things have never been better with astonishing growth figures being recorded as the nation's new wealthy treat themselves to the world's most high-end-modes of transport.   UPI/Stephen Shaver Photo via Newscom

So I attended my Driver Awareness course today. They’re very tactful really: it seems I wasn’t so much speeding when they clocked me a few weeks back doing 39 mph in a 30 mph zone – I was just unaware. Mmm. I certainly wasn't aware there was a cop van stopped at the bottom of the hill with its speed camera pointed straight at me.

There were twenty of us in the King's Hall, Balmoral (dontcha just love the cute names we give things here?), which I calculate brought £1700 into the coffers of the PSNI or AA or whoever gets to keep the loot from our fines. Most of my fellow-criminals were greybeard chaps and virtually all of them had been caught, like me, speeding between 30 and 40 mph. The instructor was Gareth, and he kept saying things like ‘I’m not a police officer’ and ‘No problem at all’. His warm-up was having us tell the rest where we’d been caught (‘”We prefer to call it ‘detected’ “), after which Gareth emphasized that we had to be there in spirit as well as body (“ ‘Make a positive contribution’ - what does that mean, Laurence?”) .

The four hours were divided between three activities:

1. Gareth pointing at the screen and getting us to guess what some data-projectored facts and figures might be before he stuck them up there.
2. We criminals pointing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-type tele-voter pads at Gareth’s computer, so it could collate our guess about some facts and figures regarding traffic mishaps. Where do most accidents occur, what contributes to them, that sort of thing. Once our projections were fed in and displayed, Gareth flashed the right answer on-screen.
3. Gareth displaying pictures and videos of places in England where accidents had occurred, so Lessons could be Learned.
How was it? Well, we all had to act converted in case Gareth turned nasty and denounced us as unreformed and told us to bugger off, the three penalty points would show on your licence after all; the powerpoints on several occasions featured barely-literate statements like ‘External factor effects our beliefs’ and ’20 mph mainly in town centre’s’ ; and Gareth wore a short-sleeve shirt without at any point explaining why. And yet the session, though about two hours too long, was good.

The big thing it answered for me was my earlier-stated criticism: that I was doing 39 mph in a 30 mph zone, nobody leapt out and got killed, gimme a break, officer. Old Gareth had the figures for pedestrian survival rates at different speeds and sobering reading they did make. If you choose to stand in the way of a car going at 20 mph, the chances are 97.5% you’ll survive. Try standing up to one at 30 mph and your chances go down to 80%. Try 35 mph, and you get 50%. And try 40 mph and you get 10%. That’s going from 80% chance of survival at 30 mph to 10% chance at 40 mph. Big jump. And precisely the speed excess I was guilty of. The accompanying video wasn’t wild dramatic stuff either: just a specialist driver on an airfield runway, trying to stop at different speeds when faced with a cardboard cut-out woman. When the car hit her at 40mph, it really did do it in a terribly final way.

There was other stuff too, like what shape is the sign containing the word STOP (octagonal, since you ask), what speed you can do on a dual carriage-way (70 mph, not 60) and remembering what COAST stands for: Concentration, Observation, Anticipation, Space and Time. I used to write SWALK on letters to a girl in 1959, but since then I find acronym stuff seriously irritates me.

But happy ending: I’m a new driver-man now. Two miles from home, what do I pass but a cunningly-concealed cop van with - that's right - a speed camera pointed at the traffic, clocking criminals. I didn’t even have to touch the brake.

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