Just after Easter I was unfortunately caught speeding through a small village in South Wales. As a ‘low end speeder’ doing only a few miles over the speed limit, I was kindly invited to attend a ‘Speed Awareness’ course in lieu of points on my driving licence and a fine. This kind offer came with a price tage of £85 but nevertheless I took the opportunity to avoid the points as I believe most people would in that situation!
And so it was that I showed up to a rather sad Best Western hotel on a wet Monday afternoon. It was the kind of place that has seen its glory days come and go, now reduced to hosting courses for people commiting motoring offences. So far, so depressing. I was shown into a room with around 30 people all seated in cabaret style. You could have heard a pin drop in there! There was none of the usual chatter you might get on a training course. There were people there of all ages and all walks of life. And to a man (or woman) nobody wanted to be there and I’d go as far to say there was an atmosphere of surly resentment. Now I don’t know about you but I felt immediately sorry for the trainer. We often talk about the importance of engaging learners and this lot were going to be a tough crowd.
Our trainer Sarah was very pleasant but had a steeliness about her that said ‘don’t mess with me’ which I think is probably perfect for that environment. She started us off with some slides about the aims and objectives of the course:
‘To contribute towards a safer community by increasing your attention to drive at an appropriate speed within the speed limit.’
She told us she wanted to educate us. She also firmly made the point that we would be expected to listen and contribute to the session and that it would not just be her talking at us for 4 hours. Thank goodness I thought. But she reinforced that point by saying she had to complete some paperwork after the course confirming our involvement and willingness to learn. If she didn’t feel we’d participated she wouldn’t tick the appropriate box and we’d end up being referred back to South Wales Police. So we were motivated more with a stick than a carrot – but in this instance I have to say, it worked. Everyone suddenly had an air of ‘oh alright then’ about them. Like sulky children who knew they’d have to take their punishment on the chin, people started giving proper answers to Sarah’s questions and engaging a lot more.
I expected the course to be very preachy. But in fact it wasn’t really. Sarah used lots of different learning interactions to get the message across including group exercises, short videos and lots of Q&As. She herself had lost a family member to a speeding driver who killed her nephew in an accident. That really made everyone sit up and pay attention. Sure everyone goes over the speed limit sometimes but nobody really thinks they’ll end up killing a child do they? Well this guy did and Sarah’s story definitely hit home.
And as the course progressed something really surprising happened: I learnt something. Shock, horror! Despite having been a licenced driver for 14 years, I picked up quite a few things I didn’t previously know. Such as it’s our duty as drivers to always keep ourselves up to date with changes to the Highway Code. I also had no idea that wherever there are streetlights, that area will automatically carry a 30mph speed limit. Simple, but actually quite useful!
And reflecting on the whole experience, I have to say it has made me more aware. The key word for me in this whole experience. Sarah very much left us all with the message that we speed at our own risk and that there are consequences to our actions beyond three points. And I am now – I think – a better and much more aware driver as a result of this course.
It wasn’t something I wanted to do and I was a most reluctant learner that day. But it ended up being a useful and worthwhile experience. And through a firm stance and a bit of stick rather than a carrot, combined with a trainer commited to her subject and a range of different interactions, I’d hazard a guess most of my fellow speeders left that day having learnt something that day too.