On the way to my eldest's saxophone exam I got caught by a speed camera. I had no idea until the letter plopped onto my doormat. In my defence, I thought I was driving under the limit but I wasn't and it was a fair cop. By way of punishment for my crime, I was given the option of points and a fine or attending a Speed Awareness course. So, rather than tarnish my previously unblemished licence, I signed up for the course.
I went by train and having beetled about in the bowels of Bradford for a bit, I finally found the training centre. I was more than a little apprehensive as I mounted the stairs to reception. What would all these arch criminals look like? Would I be able to tell that they were wrong 'uns by just looking at them? Would I stand out? Of course I didn't. I was met by a room of about fifty other people all trying to look nonchalant and none of them looking like serial law breakers. They were mainly men older than me but there was a typical cross section of the population there.
I'm not a great driver but I don't drive fast and I am quite good at reading the road ahead having had it drilled into me by my dad all those decades ago. So my attitude when I went in was to listen to what they said and learn what I could but safe in the knowledge that my crime was entirely accidental and hopefully not to be repeated. I soon changed my tune.
The course was very cleverly presented in a non-judgemental way. At no point did we feel preached to or that fingers were being wagged. But what it did do very effectively was make you think. We thought about our excuses, our driving habits and, most importantly our responsibilities. The most difficult session was when we saw footage of an accident and watched interviews with the parents of children who had been killed on the road. Being a mother of four and having hit a child in my car myself (http://imogenclark.blogspot.com/2010/02/accident.html) this was particularly hard for me to watch. In fact for a lot of the time I was focussed on the weave of my top rather than the screen with my nails jammed into my palms to hold back the tears.
But of course this was why we were there - the habitual speeder, the innocent speeder and those who suffer momentary lapses of concentration. It doesn't matter which type you are. The end result is still the same.
It was a useful day. I relearned lots of things that I'd forgotten about breaking distances and chevrons and I decided that I would never let my daughters ride in a car with a teenage boy! I passed the course. My licence remains clean. It did cross my mind however that speaking to us was a drop in the ocean. Only two people there had been caught on a motorway. The rest were just like me - going too fast in a built up area. Momentary lapses of focus, irritation at a slow bus ahead, trying to save pointless seconds by racing the lights. And we were all as likely as anyone to cause an accident. But what about all the rest? The ones who aren't caught or take the points instead. What about the mothers screaming at their children in the back of the car? The van drivers on their mobiles? The business men checking the address of the next appointment on their sat nav? Perhaps they should all be made to sit and listen for a while just so they remember exactly what that momentary loss of concentration or judgement could mean.
I know that the desired effect of the course was to make the offenders think. Well it worked. I hope everyone else thinks too.