If these speed awareness courses get much more entertaining and informative they might become a dangerous incentive to break the limit just to get on to them.
I qualified for my second one by doing 35 in a 30 at night in a strange place. Being lost and mercilessly tailgated as I crawled along a pitch dark country lane, I turned right to find a place to pull over and before I realised I was in a residential street, a camera flashed me.
Two months later, I was one of 23 people sitting in a faceless office suite inside a multistorey car park in Guildford with Janice, let’s call her, in majestic command of a laser pointer and a PowerPoint display.
I looked around me and observed that my cohorts were the most boring, nerdy, garden edge-trimming, Jamie Oliver cookbook devotees I think I have ever seen. You couldn’t have assembled a more diligent-looking bunch of tooth flossers if you had commissioned YouGov to find the 23 people least likely to do anything in any way threatening to the fabric of society.
‘Here we all are,’ I thought, as I surveyed this sorry bunch of nose-hair trimmers. ‘The upstanding citizens of Middle Britain, happy to be caught on camera and done up like a kipper.’
When our great-great-grandchildren ask how the second dark age came about, their teachers will have to explain that their ancestors couldn’t do much about civilisation unravelling because they were all detained in a National Speed Awareness Course at the time, sitting there with their vending-machine coffee cups, which they would later dispose of in the correct bin selected from a triumvirate of bins marked ‘mixed recycling’, ‘plastics’ and ‘used cups’.
Anyway, Janice got cracking by putting a teaser on the PowerPoint. How many casualties were there and how many people did we think were killed on the roads each year?
We conferred in groups of four. ‘It’s much lower than you think,’ I told my team mates, but they didn’t believe me. ‘Let’s say two million injured and 25,000 killed,’ suggested the wide-eyed chap on my left. The other teams came up with even higher guesses. The true figures then appeared on the board: 194,477 casualties, 1,775 dead.
‘What do you think of that?’ said Janice, pacing in front of the PowerPoint.
A man in overalls bearing the name of a boiler repair firm piped up: ‘Not bad!’
Janice balked. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, when you think of the millions on our roads, a thousand dead ain’t bad.’
‘It’s bad for the families of those killed,’ corrected Janice, her smartly bobbed hair bouncing indignantly. ‘We want that figure to be?’ ‘Zero,’ we all chirruped obediently.
And so off we went learning how to scour the roads for children about to jump out from hidden playgrounds, old ladies about to fall from parked cars and sparsely planted speed-limit signs — prompting the obvious question, ‘Why are they so hard to spot?’ The speed signs, I mean, not the old ladies.
Janice reckoned they can’t just put repeater signs on lampposts to tell you it’s a 30 limit. You get one sign, usually at a junction, then it’s up to you to keep clocking the clues: street lights, houses, crossings, ‘lollipop persons’.
I wanted to ask why they can’t just put up lots of 30 signs, perhaps lighting them, so when I’m lost in a strange place at night I might see them.
But I couldn’t be bothered. There would be an answer. There was an answer for everything. And the more Janice gave the answers the less clear things were.
‘This is a 20 zone. And this is a 20 limit. And this is a 20 guideline. If you’re not doing 20 it’s not illegal but if you do knock someone over and kill them doing more than 20 then you will get done for dangerous driving. Clear?’ Oh yes, we nodded.
There were several rounds of ‘spot the hazard’ in which we were shown a picture of a street and had to shout out what could go wrong.
‘Children playing …parked cars …heavy foliage…,’ we each called out diligently, like the morons we were.
Then the man in overalls could bear it no longer: ‘Cats and dogs! Men falling off ladders from roofs on to the top of your car as you drive past!’
I wanted to join in by shouting, ‘Yes and the door of that parked van might burst open and jihadists leap out and spray the street with bullets!’
But of course neither Janice nor the powers that be were remotely interested in whether jihadists were going to leap out of a van.
Not unless they could get them to sign up to a National Jihad Awareness Course costing £100 a few months later.
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