Speed awareness

Volume 2, Issue 20; 09 Jul 2018

I was going how fast, officer?

I got nicked by the Norfolk & Suffolk Constabulary An apparently joint constabulary irrespective of what Wikipedia says. somewhere along the ring road around Norwich. Truth be told, there was no officer involved, only a speed camera. And it clocked me doing 35 in a 30, as I confessed before.

The summons that arrived, when it arrived, having traveled by way of the car rental company and then across an ocean, was a very serious and threatening sounding document. To be fair, it was at least clearly worded and easy to understand. It is obvious that a lot of time and energy has gone into making that document, if not as concise as possible, at least as clearly defensible in court as possible: each section includes the explicit admonition “if you’re doing this section, do not do that other section over there” and warnings like “if you do this, it cannot be undone”, etc.

All in all, three options were presented:

  1. Take a “speed awareness” course (for about £95)
  2. Accept a fixed penalty of £100 and three points on my license
  3. Request a court hearing.

Given the distance and all, a court hearing wasn’t really an option. Besides which, I’m not sure if arguments about stress over my mother’s then quite ill healthShe’s better now, thanks for asking., lack of familiarity with the roads, relative inexperience driving on the left, etc. really constitute an excuse for speeding.

I was prepared to pay the fine and let them try to convince Texas to put points on my license for the infraction, when I discovered that I could quite easily sign up for a a speed awareness course that conincided with my next trip to the UK.

On some level, it’s a bit strange that you can go to another country, plonk down your foreign driver’s license, and be handed the keys to car. I’ve never received any instruction in UK driving or driving laws. That first bleary morning, years ago, trying to pull out of Heathrow to drive on the left with only a couple of hours sleep was…harrowing. It bothers me less now.

Nevertheless, I decided that it would be interesting to do the course instead of paying the fine. I figured I’d almost certainly learn something.

And that’s how I came to spend four hours on a random Tuesday afternoon in the conference room of a slightly shabby hotel on the outskirts of town with about twenty reluctant participants.

I won’t attempt a blow-by-blow recap of the course, but it was very well done. Between them, the two instructors covered the ground you’d expect. There was a bit of physics and biology: stopping distances, reaction times, that sort of thing. There were discussions of various road conditions, pedestrians, cyclists, extra care to be taken when towing loads, in trucks or vans (the rules are different!), etc.

It was entirely effective in as much as I’m now driving more carefully, more mindfully, and…more slowly. I don’t actually think you’d get stopped in the US for going five miles an hour over the limit, but it’s not really worth the risk, is it?

Years ago, when I had to commute from western Massachusetts to Boston once a week, I did some experiments and discovered, to my surprise, that the difference between taking it easy and riding along at about the speed limit and “pushing it” a bit, over the course of a 100 miles, is well under 10 minutes. It was good to be reminded of that.

In closing, a couple of fun facts about driving in the United Kingdom.

A speed limit sign in a red circle is compulsory. If it’s in a black circle, or painted on the road (in white paint), it’s advisory. Advisory only, but if you get into an accident going faster than the advised limit, it’s unlikely to work in your favor.

And my favorite: absent other signs, on a single carriagewayA road without a “central reservation”, a physical obstruction between the lanes such as a curbed median, a grassy median, or barricades. (Paint doesn’t count.), the speed limit is 30mph if there are (three or more) street lights! Without street lights, it’s 60mph, I believe. I am not making that up.

It’s not the sort of rule you’d guess, but it makes sense once you’ve been told (in Massachusetts, you have to be told that a “Thickly Settled” sign means 30mph, too). In the UK street lights, are highly correlated with greater population density, with towns and villages. Slow down.