Kate Fox: It appears I have been driving around with my eyes closed for 20 years

Journal columnist and performance poet Kate Fox finds how a speed awareness course won round a posse of truculent drivers

A flooded road
A flooded road

North Yorkshire Police invited me to a special course for drivers.

At first I thought it was because they were so impressed with my ability to negotiate roadworks on the A1 at Durham in the dark that they wanted me to spread my awareness of speed limits to other road users.

Unfortunately it turns out that this is not what a Speed Awareness course is about.

Though the two presenters, let us call them Doug and Clive, were at pains to let us know that we were not on the course because we were being punished.

We in fact, they flattered, were the sort of reasonable road users who might benefit from education rather than the sort of speed demons who would have gone straight to court or penalty points, do not stop, do not pass go.

Our reward was these four hours in a hotel conference room and the enforced jollity of a regional sales conference for plumbing products.

First we had to fill in a Highway Code quiz. It was then that I discovered that I had forgotten most of the things I had crammed for my Driving Theory test twenty years ago. In common with most of my table, I could not even draw a Give Way sign (I’d forgotten the triangle was upside down) or a Stop sign (hexagonal, who knew).

It seems that I have basically been driving around with my eyes closed for the past twenty years. I’ve no idea how I’ve managed to survive this far.

Clive asked if any of us knew anybody who’d been on one of these courses before. Mark put his hand up. It turned out that it was him, himself who had been on one of these courses three years before. “Was it worthwhile?” asked Clive optimistically. “Well, I didn’t speed for three more years” said Mark. We’ll put that down as a win.

There was lots of interaction and asking us things in teams and individually. Doug and Clive were admirably patient with the fact that many of us launched in long explanations of how our being caught was unfair or an anomaly. Most memorably Maureen who said she couldn’t help her car sometimes creeping up to 35mph because it was an automatic and “A bit zippy”.

Ken got a bit annoyed at the thought of all those young men who cause insurance premiums to go up with their reckless driving until Doug raised a laugh with a kindly “Perhaps people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones...”.

By the time we’d all been stunned at how little we could see on a picture in the two seconds recommended stopping distance between cars, realised that we drive in a Zombified state most of the time and have become complacent about the most basic road knowledge we’ve forgotten, the excuses had stopped.

Even Maureen only blurted out a bit more about her sixty five years of a clean license and how speeding vans were just cheating. After the technical, but clearly described, explanation of why cars cause so much more damage at 35mph than 30mph, I think most of us were wondering why these refresher courses aren’t compulsory.

Clive said they had actually tried to offer them to the general public but most people are so convinced they’re good and careful drivers until they come on one of these courses, that they can’t get enough take up.

On my way home I picked up my two new pairs of driving glasses from Specsavers (genuinely) and looked carefully at every sign, junction and potential hazard. It was like a whole, new, safer world. Until I could swear that was Maureen I saw in my rear view mirror, craning her head as she drove behind me, still looking for that pesky speeding van...

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