Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Doctor and Pauline's Speed Shop

So, what did I learn last Friday?

First off, avoid Loughborough town centre. The A6 runs through it but they're digging it up and as I didn't know I could have taken the by-pass through the university campus, I was stuck in the traffic for an hour. Apart from the road works, it's not a town centre designed for traffic, with too many right turns. Hint to Loughborough town planners and the DoT, rename the by-pass the A6, it would be so much easier. Good job I left over three hours to get there because I used them all. I did have time to go to Subway for a sandwich and a cuppa beforehand. Good job too as the "refreshments" consisted of water and machine tea and coffee. Not even an Abernethy biscuit.

The venue for the Speed Awareness Workshop is in the most inaccessible part of Leicester from a driver's point of view. I think this is part of the punishment. It's next to the Holiday Inn and and NCP car park and these are the only three buildings in St Nicholas' Circle, a dreadful roundabout/junction affair. I'm not sure of the rationale behind that but considering over 50% of the "delegates" to these schemes are out of town, an office with some dedicated parking and more easily found, preferably near the railway station and with better disabled access would have been far preferable and probably put us in a more amenable mood.

There were 20 other miscreants taking part. Most of us were from out of the county hence the late start time. Apparently this course is solely for those caught doing 36 mph and 37 mph in 30 mph zones. Leicestershire's cameras trigger at 36 mph so we are not considered serious transgressors. Anyone caught over that speed isn't given the option of doing the speed workshop.

There were two "tutors". Malc, an advanced driving instructor and tutor for the emergency services, who bore an uncanny likeness to the third Doctor. And Lyn, a recalcitrant ex-speeder, whose vague resemblance to Royston Vasey's pen loving Restart Officer was strengthened by the presence in class of Matt, our very own Mickey Michaels.

We were all given sticky labels with our names on and were sat down in a small room, arced around a screen and Powerpoint projector. In time honoured fashion we then had to introduce ourselves although there was a twist to the introductions. As The Doctor pointed to you and spoke your name, you were invited to state how fast you were going when caught; where you were caught and whether or not you thought the speed limit in force there was suitable. Matt enthusiastically overstepped the mark here by immediately offering some homespun advice for ensuring one doesn't speed in cars that don't belong to you, which was, "never go out of third". Remind me never to borrow a Maserati or, for that matter, an automatic. Matt would later be truly astounded that Transit vans were capable of speeds in excess of 50mph. It was heartening to see that out of the 21 of us we were all caught at only about 5 different venues. This makes the instructors' jobs easier in that they are able to talk knowledgeably about these traps and also they are able to fit their examples to known locations. And no, I didn't see a 30 sign because there wasn't one there. Vindicated? Read on.

There was some background information and some dispelling of myths and rumour. They aren't called speed cameras anymore, they are called "Safety Cameras". Most are operated under county safety camera partnerships (Leicester's website isn't working so I've pointed you at the Kent one which is quite informative). The Partnerships usually comprise the Dept for Transport, local councils, NHS and local police forces and their mission is simply to try and get us to drive more safely.

Regardless of the tutors' re-statement of the official line, I do actually find it difficult to wholly subscribe to the notion that there is some kind of conspiracy surrounding the siting of speed cameras to generate maximum revenue. For this to happen there must be tacit acknowledgement by the detractors that there is a problem with speeding at that site. If there wasn't, why put a revenue generator there? There would be no revenue in the town centre with all those lights slowing the traffic down, eh? They are sited at places with a proven history of accidents over a certain time, not just speeding. Remember the old accident blackspot signs? Many of these have probably now been replaced with a camera. They do generate a vast income, which is used to run the schemes with the balance being sent to the exchequer, but that's hardly their fault, especially when you consider the partnerships are falling over themselves to notify everyone where the camera sites are. There are maps readily available with the permanent and mobile sites marked on them and mobile sites are published in the local press and on websites every week. All sites are signed well in advance. Failure to spot one is tantamount to driving without due care and attention or admitting you weren't paying attention - by implication you must have missed a sign or not noticed the brightly painted box or van on the side of the road. Believe me, it's embarrassing to admit in front of your peers that you didn't notice one. Admittedly there are local problems with overgrown hedges and branches obscuring some signs and other road furniture even obscuring cameras but, and it's a big but, it's actually no excuse. Why? Wait a moment.

Out of the 21 of us there were probably only two stock excuses as to why we were speeding. We weren't local and we didn't see a speed limit sign. We assumed the speed limit was higher. I held my hand up to that last one. I was on a dual carriageway, and having driven on very few indeed wth a 30mph limit, wasn't even in the mindset to think about it. I was genuinely lost and was looking for a turning. Had I been driving along it normally I would still have got caught because I was ignorant of the law. How many of you are, too?

What's the national speed limit for a single carriageway? 60mph. Correct. Unless? Unless what? Unless it's in a built up area or there are signs saying otherwise. Same applies for a dual carriageway. The speed limit for a dual carriageway in a built up area is 30mph. And how do you know it's a built up area? Street lamps, placed less than 200 yards apart, you dil, or didn't you read your highway code? We don't need a big sign to tell us, the presence of lamps should be enough, why would they be there unless there wasn't some kind of hazard? Now stop asking stupid questions. If the speed limit is greater than 30mph there will be repeater signs affixed to the lamposts notifying you. If you can't see any, don't assume or look for one while hurtling along, just slow down to 30. It really is that simple. If you get caught, it's your fault. This site is very good.

I tested it on the way back and they were right. I was on the A50, a dual carriageway to motorway standard, if not class. Much of it is unlit until one reaches junctions or roundabouts. As soon as the lamps started appearing, confirmation roundels appeared on them, either bearing the national speed limit sign or a slower one. There really is no excuse for not knowing.

This does not excuse the fact that some speed limits are plainly ill-advised. Trying to slow to 30 from 60 or 70 on a dual carriageway is much harder than entering onto one and not accelerating past that speed, so there are improvements that can be made with signage and maybe more appropriate limits. It does not excuse the fact that there are still no safety cameras along several stretches of road local to me that are amongst the worst in the country. I did venture a comment about the totla cnut. This was met with sighs. "Yes, yes. Let off by a judge, they said. The police wanted to throw the book at him and had already done so. Unfortunately with the police, they hadn't quite got their own systems properly in place hence the judge's decision. We get police drivers sent to us all the time, they're the quietest ones in here". By the way, 159 mph is 71 m/s. That means he would have hit the hazard that suddenly appeared 100 yards in front of him before he could have avoided it. Anyway, the avoiding action probably would have resulted in him barrel rolling. That's why F1 drivers don't take chicanes at 180mph in cars designed to be driven at 210 on purpose built tracks without badgers or rabbits running across them.

A couple of folk have ventured comments on being caught in unmanned roadworks at night driving in excess of the posted speed limit. Unless you were the first vehicle through after all the cones had been neatly planted and the road cleared, how can you guarantee that the lorry in front of you hasn't clipped a cone? Or the twat in front thrown a can out of his window or broken down? Or even if the roadworks really are unmanned? In a situation where avoiding a hazard is nigh on impossible, they do try and make it easier for the driver by at least slowing him or her down. It's only a matter of a couple of minutes at the end of the day, why worry? It's only your impatience letting you down.

The estimated direct financial cost of dealing with a fatality on the roads is around £1.5 million. It's not about money but about the extent of the effect one person's ill-considered action can have. Money's just the easiest way to quantify it. I don't really give a toss whether people want to take their cars out to Mallory Park and kill themelves there; I wouldn't want to remove people's freedom to do what they want in the right place at the right time. I just don't want their actions hurting me when I never asked to be involved and that is ultimately what the course was about. Consideration.

I didn't feel preached at, patronised or mocked. All of us were experienced drivers who got caught slightly over the limit and needed a jab in the ribs to make sure we at least realised what we'd done. I'm pretty certain we all came out thinking differently and in that respect I'm glad I opted for it.

5 Vegetable peelings:

Anonymous Vicus Scurra said...

Very nice, old chap.
I speed (not very much). I've been caught twice in 20 years.
If there were the threat of being caught more often, I would slow down, and never go more than 30 mph in town. This would mean that when some child ran out in front of me, there would be less chance of it being killed.
If we had speed cameras everywhere, everyone would stick to the speed limits. This would reduce accidents and pollution and probably ease congestion as well. It would mean that the poor sods in the emergency services spent less time scraping body parts off of the road and telling people that a member of their family was currently spread over a 125 yard stretch of the A490.

Loughborough is best avoided completely, even if they are not digging holes in it. Really miserable place. Leicester, by contrast, is the Florence of the Midlands.

2:12 pm  
Blogger Geoff said...

Sounds like an AA meeting.

My name is Geoff and I am a speeder.

Yes, I do 80 on motorways.
Yes, I do 33 and sometimes 37 in built up areas, especially going downhill.

But there are thousands of drivers who drive at dangerously fast speeds who, if they're caught, should be banned for life. And life should bloody well mean life, I don't care if he's a 17 year old kid. Sorry, did I say "he"?

2:30 pm  
Anonymous Richard said...

Yes, for the Uffizi one can visit the National Space Centre. My Dad went once with my Uncle and I don't think they thought it was that good. I have relations in the environs of the city (Peatling Magna, to be precise).

Geoff, yes.

2:46 pm  
Blogger First Nations said...

dang, traffic school! i never bother. i'm a lost cause. I fly low, and once a year or so they 'renew my pilots license', the way i look at it. as i fly i can also visit my insurance premiums as they orbit the sun.
slowly but surely, traffic cam is making it's way through the U.S. freeing up the police for more important enforcement activities, like ticketing people who don't remove 'garage sale' signs after their garage sale is over. yes, really.

4:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:40 pm  

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