Speed awareness courses: do they work?

Published: 25 November 2010

Speed awareness courses are being offered by a growing number of counties in England. I should know: I’ve just been on one this morning. I took part in one that’s been run by the local Cambridgeshire and Peterborough councils for the past six years.

Mine was a typical story: I was once again late on my way to work, it was first thing in the morning and I was a bit dozy. A fixed camera caught me doing 36mph in a 30mph. But when the ticket landed a few weeks later, I was offered a speed awareness course where I could spend a morning being taught why speed kills for the price of a ticket (£60) but – important this – no points on my licence.

Road accidents in the UK: the grizzly stats

British road accidents and deaths fell to their lowest ever recorded in 2009, we were told by our instructor (who worked for the AA): there were 222,146 casualties, 24,690 serious injuries and 2222 people killed last year. She said part of the cause for the fall was the rising cost of petrol, people working longer hours in a recession and many having to curb their driving as household and business budgets ran low. Yep, the recession made our roads safer.

We still speed though. A conservative-sounding 55% of us exceed limits on motorways (despite motorway collisions making up just 4% of all collisions and 6% of road deaths) and the most bumps and scrapes occur on urban roads. Yet 69% of us speed in built-up areas.

I was caught just 6mph over the limit and although I’m (hopefully) more aware than most drivers of stopping distances, now I’ve been showed pictures of accident scenes in today’s speed awareness course, I’m sure I’ll take more care over my speed in the coming months.

Speed cameras: still a blight on UK roads?

Inevitably, plenty of chat at the speed awareness course centred on the always controversial speed cameras. We were told that rules on where these can be placed have changed recently and local authorities can only install Gatsos in place where three or more serious accidents have taken place in the past year.

And get this: each camera cost a council £23,000 – and that’s purely for installation rather than ongoing maintenance and film costs. Yes, many of the cameras in Cambridgeshire will be empty to save cost. And you thought that non-digital cameras had been relegated to the back of your cupboard!

In 2007 £126 million was spent installing cameras nationally. Sounds a lot, until you realise that £20 billion was spent mopping up accidents and patching up casualties.

One of the hardest-hitting speed adverts of all time was the one with the little girl where the video was reversed and she was dragged across the road backwards. It was funded by the very cameras we motorists often snub. After today’s course, I still doubt their efficacy on motorways, but see their need in built-up areas.

So do speed awareness courses actually work?

Yep. It’s an effective way of reaching motorists who may not have had an ounce of tuition since they passed their test years – or even decades ago. For that alone, it’s a good way of training up our drivers, as Gavin Green advocated earlier this week.

For that educational purpose alone, speed awareness courses are a great idea. That they let you trade knowledge for points on your licence is merely the icing on the cake. Just got to remember now that I can’t take another speed awareness course for the next three years…