Slow down, you’re going too fast...

Gavin Ledwith ready to put into action what he has learned
Gavin Ledwith ready to put into action what he has learned

HARTLEPOOL will possibly become the first place in the country to offer mini-speed awareness courses for young drivers.

But what actually is a speed awareness course?

GAVIN LEDWITH writes about his own recent experience after he was caught on camera.

THE irony was not lost on anyone who has seen me run.

“What? You were caught speeding while driving to a road race? I bet that was the fastest you went all day.”

Cue even more mirth when they found out that the 10k run in question started and finished at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light football ground.

“I wouldn’t worry about it. You are not the first visitor to come away from the Stadium of Light with three points this season.”

Or not, as the case turned out.

Not that the Stadium of Light proved a fortress for the hosts during their 2011-12 home campaign.

More that I did not eventually receive the standard three points and £60 fine.

I suppose it is time to get serious and go back to the beginning.

It was the morning of Sunday, May 6, and the A184 road between the A19 Testos roundabout and the Stadium of Light was predictably quiet.

With road blocks shutting many roads during the race, the idea was to get parked early outside the cordons to ensure a quick escape once I had staggered back to the car.

Unfortunately my concentration wandered as I approached East Boldon and I failed to react quickly enough to a warning flash from a helpful motorist heading towards me.

A second flash from the mobile camera van parked on my left almost instantly confirmed my suspicions.

Having somehow kept my licence clean for almost 20 years, I admit I wasn’t up to date with the likely penalties on offer and automatically assumed that my insurance was going to get hammered with three points.

Ten days later the inevitable letter arrived.

I had been caught driving at 35 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone – the minimum speed to be penalised – and could either accept the usual punishment, fight the case in court or complete a £84 speed awareness course.

For me it was a no brainer.

Had I chosen the £60 fine and points then the administration charge alone for amending my insurance would immediately take me beyond the £84 course fee.

And that’s before taking into account the average £200 hike in premiums that three points bring with them.

So earlier this month it was off to Sunderland Enterprise Park to sit the four-hour course.

With the joining instructions including a firm warning not to be late, the waiting room was full long before the 8am start.

Full but quiet and anyone trying to lighten the mood with some gallows humour received only a muted response.

The assembled throng were a cross-section of ages from their 20s up to pensioners.

Few looked as though they would cut it in a Formula One car.

Most seemed privately to accept their guilt.

There was one, as you would expect, who argued during the opening course exchanges that they should not have been there.

Data protection issues prevent me from mentioning why they said they were speeding when they were caught.

Needless to say they felt the authorities could have made better use of their time than picking on taxpayers like themselves.

I could see to a degree where they were coming from.

Hardly a week goes by without the Hartlepool Mail reporting on some jobless addict or other who walks out of court without parting with a penny.

But any lingering sense of unfairness soon disappeared as the course progressed.

A video graphically outlined the impact a car has on a cut-out of a pedestrian while driving at different speeds.

It did not take too much imagination to substitute the cut-out for the real thing.

A series of quizzes – there is no exam but plenty of “audience participation” – also emphatically outlined just how much of the Highway Code I had forgotten.

Then came the finale. An animated recreation from the air of the the M4 Berkshire disaster, one of Britain’s worst car crashes, in which 10 motorists died and another 25 were injured after 51 vehicles collided with each other in thick fog in March 1991.

Even our token dissenter appeared converted as the room watched the ensuing carnage in silence.

I left the course a sadder but hopefully wiser and safer driver.