• Minnie Eve
  • 11 January 2013

Speed awareness; does it steer our behaviour?

I recently attended the AA-run Driver Aware course, more commonly known among law breakers as the speed awareness course.  Although I parted with nearly £100 of real English money for the privilege, it wasn’t because I was happy to pay for the noteworthy education it offered; instead, I traded three points on my license for the expenditure.  What I hadn’t banked on was that I might actually gain something from the four hours of my life that I had previously thought would be lost.

I show no shame in admitting to speeding (although I am remorseful now of my complacency towards it).  I am not a serial speeder – if anything I drive quite slowly as a rule.  However, I am guilty of packing a lot into my life, as well as thinking most things in life take about ten minutes!  Aren’t we all though – busy, late, and often in a rush?  On the night of my course, the trainer posed an interesting question to the floor of guilty cohorts: “How many of you are first time speeders?”  No end of hands shot up, desperate to be included in the ‘I shouldn’t really be here’ pack.  It turns out we weren’t listening.  We had owned up to being caught speeding for the first time – but of course – we had all exceeded the speed limit prior to that time; we just hadn’t been caught out!

At 17 years old, I wasn’t happy to have my years of driving stretched out ahead of me.  I wasn’t, like most teenagers, desperate to get in a car.  In fact, I found the whole idea terrifying – not the driving part but being so responsible for human life.  Not just mine either, but everybody else’s.  I didn’t learn to drive until I was 26!  Anyone who knows me might be inclined to say I err on the side of neurotic but still, if someone that worried still ends up speeding then what hope have the rest of the carefree population?

So, why do we speed then?  We are breaking a law that exists to safeguard our own welfare and the welfare of others around us. What I find interesting is that, even when we know the outcome of breaking a rule, such as a resulting accident, we still don’t abide to it.  Often it is not a deliberate act; the breaking of the rule is not committed intentionally and, worryingly, it might not even be a particularly conscious act.   I can certainly recall times when I have driven a particular route – one that is familiar, that I do regularly – and found that I have suddenly become ‘aware’.  This sudden realisation illustrated that, for about ten minutes, automatic pilot had taken over and been in the driving seat!

In answer to my question above, I discovered that there are a few answers, some that I am sure will be familiar to readers.  Most commonly, it seems the biggest reason is that we just don’t think it’s a problem.  What’s the difference between 30mph and 35mph or 70mph and 80mph?  Or perhaps we’ve made a judgement call on the situation or the environment: ‘It was 5am, there was no one around.’  Or even, we’ve already decided that the road doesn’t need to be limited to 30mph because, in our opinion, we could drive safely at 40mph.

Which brings to me to what I have learnt.   There is a massive difference between 30mph and 32 mph – maybe not in speed but in time.  If you’re talking about being able to stop and avoid impact, there is pure maths behind the limit. It’s not there to annoy us, it’s there to save lives.  Secondly, just because you may not be walking the streets at 5am, it doesn’t mean someone else won’t be.  You can never know for certain what will or won’t happen, so isn’t it better to be glad you were careful a million times without anything adverse happening, and it paying off, than to wish you had been more careful?  Finally, just as there are speed limits for a reason, there are warning signs for a reason – there are few road signs today that are just there for information (an exception being a sign for a roundabout).  A lot are there because someone else has already made a mistake, been seriously injured or maybe even killed.

In 2011 1,901 people died in road accidents in Great Britain and there were 203,950 accidents classed as being of severity.  47% of cars exceeded a 30mph speed limit, while 49% went faster than 70mph on a motorway.  So, essentially half of us disregard the speed limit.  I find this statistic frightening and deeply interesting at the same time.  The speed awareness course seeks to steer our behaviour by changing attitudes; subtle, but in my opinion effective.  The idea being that if you can change attitudes then the change in behaviour will follow.  It’s not there to slap our wrists or preach to us.  For me it is obvious that, when I am in a familiar environment, it is likely I will behave in a habitual way.  In the driving scenario I am not necessarily looking for unexpected elements to arise, leaving me open to making errors of judgement – the more serious ramification of which could impact on mine and everybody else’s safety.

If we could all be a little more present in our day-to-day commute and on our longer-haul road trips, perhaps we might play a part in making our roads safer for everyone.  Since attending the course I certainly have made being more careful a priority; I’m watching my speed and keeping my distance.  2013, for me, is the year I will be practising my awareness.