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A Strange Way to Spend a Saturday Afternoon

Thursday 19 August 2010, 20:06
By John Baxter

John Baxter, Wincanton Window Editor!I arrived outside a sparse looking office block set on a bleak industrial estate on the edge of Taunton. I parked and watched warily. I did not want to be here. Others were arriving. Some driving, some dropped off. Expressions were guarded. I went into reception and gave my name, which was checked off by the receptionist who consulted a register with my details. She directed me to go to Room 3X. There were a lot of rooms off long corridors, but her instructions were clear. I caught up with a young woman who told me she had the same destination. We rolled our eyes and went in.

Before us was a crescent of sixteen chairs facing a table on which lolled a smiling forty-something man in dark blue shirtsleeves and slacks. He bade us come in and make ourselves a drink, gesturing to flasks of tea, coffee, soft drinks and bikkies invitingly displayed. Bit of a surprise. Helped myself and sat down on one of the few empty seats. Pimply youth to my left, salt of the earth lorry driver to my right, elderly retired business-man or army officer beyond that. Four women who had all chosen to sit together. The rest a varied assortment of men. It looked as if we cut across all social strata and ages.

Then we waited. We had been told to be fifteen minutes early, but we could only start at two. Clearly one person had failed to show. As we waited we questioned our neighbours.

"So how were you caught?"

"Speed camera."

"And you?"

"Police camera van"

"Camera at the traffic light."

As we chatted a video was projected from the table to the wall in front of us. It showed smiling faces and told us that we would find what we were about to undergo "positive, informative, pro-active." I doubted it. We were all here for just one reason. Given the choice of three points on our driving licences or this course and a sixty pound fine either way you would be a right fool not to come and endure what had been laid on, but enjoy it? No way.

I asked our leader in blue how long it would last. "Three hours." he replied. I called my wife on the mobi. "We have three hours of fun here." I said. Sniggers all round.

With that we started. Our leader introduced himself as a trainer named Michael explaining how we were one of very considerable number of similar "courses" that were being run in this building. After two hours of film, discussion, question and answer and some confession we stopped for tea. A chance to chat with each other.

"He's blankety good!" "Never thought I could possibly find this afternoon so interesting." "Really makes you think" were the sort of comments I heard on all sides, and he certainly was.

We asked if he was following a format or was each session different. He said everything was carefully planned and it had been honed to what we were getting over courses that had been running for the last seven years. Trainers like him did a maximum of three days in a week. He only did one.

We finished our tea and settled down for the final hour - which passed very quickly. At the end we were given a booklet summarising the course and a signed "Certificate of Achievement.". Most went up and thanked him and shook him by the hand before walking out into the sunshine. I heard no anti remarks. I think we were all amazed. Who would think that such an audience of adults compelled to attend a three hour "Speed Choice Workshop" could possibly respond so positively.

Road signsSo what had we learnt? As the older business/military man said to me as we walked out, "There was nothing we didn't know already, really, but he got us thinking and stopped us taking our driving for granted." I agreed. In particular I had learnt that to exceed the speed limit in an urban 30 mph area, (I was caught doing 37 on the edge of Yeovil) really is quite a big deal for no body can survive an impact at that speed and the damage I could inflict could have terrible consequences.

Now we learn that following the pre-election pledge of some politicians to "End the war on motorists" central funds for road safety have been slashed and the counties are turning off their speed cameras despite the pleas of senior police that they are the most effective tools in reducing speeding, road deaths and injuries. It seems also that these "Speed Choice Workshops" which the Telegraph describes as "demeaning" may soon be under threat. Before I was compelled to go on one I would have been happy to agree and see them go. Now I am not so sure, and feel if my £60 fine was spent on that it was a good use of resources. Subsequently, after telling several friends of my experience they have confessed their guilty secret - that they too were caught and sent on one. They all admit they think the course was really worth while. Has it made me a more careful and considerate driver? I think so.


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