Yes, I admit it, I was caught speeding back in May and faced with a choice between 3 points on my newly-issued and wonderfully clean license, or attending the dreaded speed awareness course - four hours of my life I would never get back!
Of course, like most other people, I dutifully went online and forked out the £72 for the speed awareness course. It might be more expensive than the £60 fine, but it's got to be cheaper than admitting to your insurance company that you've been a naughty girl.
Back in early June, August 27th seemed a really, really long way away, so after transitioning NB, moving house and going on a three-week holiday, it came as somewhat of a shock to come home and realise that I had only a few days to sort out babysitters for a full afternoon! Anyway, thanks to some very kind and understanding friends (one of whom had been on the same course not that long ago so was very sympathetic!) I managed to get organised and turn up at the place on time and with a borrowed copy of the latest edition of the Highway Code in my handbag.
As it happens, the training was at the same place as I did my adoption training, which felt a bit strange, but at least it ensured that I arrived on time with minimum fuss (and no u-turns!). It did not, however, ensure that I arrived in a good frame of mind.
You see, like most people, I don't consider myself a habitual speeder. Most of my journeys are pootling affairs around town, and many are less than 3 miles. I now tell my insurance company that I do less than 6000 miles per year, which is a big change from my first years in work when I regularly drove upto 400 miles per week commuting around the place. Back in those days I guess I was as speedy and dangerous as many other young drivers. Before I was 20 I had been in two major accidents that had seen four cars written off, although thankfully nobody was seriously injured. But I never got caught speeding during those crazy days, careering round in a succession of barely roadworthy cars.
So I will admit that I felt a bit resentful that all of a sudden, as a fairly sedate driver with 23 years behind the wheel, I had been caught over the limit by some automated system and sent, like a naughty school child, on mandatory retraining. I'm not saying it wasn't a fair cop - it totally was and I knew exactly when and where I had done it as soon as I saw the letter on the doormat - it's just that I couldn't help feeling that the time of our law enforcement officials could perhaps be better spent than collecting gangs of middle-aged women (for that's who was mainly there) into stuffy training centres to hector them about what bad drivers they are.
I'm afraid I do a good line in stubborn and intractable resentment! Several people had told me that the course was eye-wateringly boring and I would hate it, and this, added to my prickly annoyance at having to go at all, was guaranteed to have me pretty much determined to get absolutely nothing out of the day at all.
So it is with enormous surprise at myself that I write here that the whole thing was absolutely and unbelievably excellent, pretty much from start to finish. Yes - I can hardly believe it myself! The two guys that were running it were like pensioner versions of the Top Gear guys talking about all the muscle cars they've driven and track days they've been on, in between giving really practical and excellent advice about how to avoid some of the more common reasons for accidental speeding.
They didn't hector us, patronise us or lecture us. They treated us like what we probably were - generally safe drivers who needed to know how not to get caught speeding again. We learned some very helpful tips for being able to tell what the speed limit was on any road even if we missed the signs, we did hazard awareness, we had a bit of a Highway Code refresher (I hadn't even looked at a copy for over 20 years . . . newsflash - it's changed since then!), we were given helpful suggestions on how to avoid having our speed creep up without us noticing. All in all, I really felt as though I came away having experienced a useful refresher on my driving technique and staying safe.
It's nearly 23 years since I passed my test. And that was the old version with no theory test or parallel parking. Since that time I have driven countless miles and never once updated my training, looked at the Highway Code or in any other way taken steps to ensure that when I am in charge of a machine that could injure or even kill people, I am handling it in the safest way possible.
As a foster carer I have to go on several mandatory courses including food hygiene and safeguarding every three years. That's every THREE years. Yes, I have to go on a course about how to keep accurate records about looked-after children every three years. But as long as I have up-to-date tax and insurance I can blithely drive those children around even though I may be an atrocious (but lucky) driver.
I'm not a person who likes to admit that I'm wrong, but I'll say it . . . I was wrong to dismiss this course in advance as patronising claptrap with nothing to teach me. I'm actually glad I went on it and I think the powers that be could do a lot worse than make a shortened version of it mandatory for all drivers, say, every 10 years. Don't worry, I'm not entirely a reformed character. I still think most traffic cameras are basically an attempt by local authorities to raise a bit of extra money, and that still makes me incredibly annoyed. But as for the speed awareness course, well, I'm converted!