Fleet News

Back to school for the bad boys of fleet

THERE are 330 fixed speed cameras in the Thames Valley area south-west of London. Have a guess how many actually work – 250, 200, maybe only 100? All would be way off the actual figure of 22.

But the 22 out of 330 cameras generate enough work to keep the administration team at Thames Valley Police flat out processing fines.

Any more and they would not be able to cope. It is the burgeoning number of motorists caught speeding which has led some counties to assess alternatives to dishing out fines and points.

Speed awareness schemes are becoming more common. Drivers caught speeding pay up to £100 to attend a one-day course as an alternative to a fine, points on their driving licence or even a ban and the courses are often full of company car drivers.

Thames Valley offers two courses run by driver training provider DriveTech. One for speeders recorded marginally over the speed limit and one for offenders caught excessively speeding.

Drivers attending the ‘excessive’ course in the Thames Valley region would usually be liable for a court summons, a fine up to £1,000, the possibility of a driving ban or six penalty points.

However, by paying £91 they attend a five-hour course which includes a two-hour on the road practical session with a driver trainer.

Not all drivers are given the option to attend a course. There is criteria which needs to be met including that the driver has not attended a course within the past three years and in some cases of extreme speeding a motorist will be given no alternative but go to court.

A large majority of offenders on the course I sat in on were company car drivers, none had any previous driver training, most were first-time offenders and all except two were male.

These are fairly common traits according to Frank McKenna, a professor of psychology at Reading University who designed part of the course.

He said: ‘Most people attending the courses are 35 to 50-year-olds. There are usually more men on the high-risk speed course and more company car drivers. ‘Most drivers perceive themselves to be more skilful than the average person on the road, although 93% of people on the course have never had any form of driver training.’

McKenna has gathered other statistics from people on the course and as the sessions have full anonymity he reckons drivers tend to be more honest about their habits and transgressions.

He has found that the most common problem admitted by drivers on the course is following too close to vehicles in front. The average following time on roads is one second when it should be two, says McKenna.

There is also a correlation between driver fatigue and aggression. An average of one in six drivers on the courses admits to falling asleep at the wheel.

McKenna said: ‘People who are aggressive are also twice as likely to fall asleep at the wheel, are more liable to flout general rules and are more prepared to drive for longer periods without a break.’

As part of the course, drivers first complete an online questionnaire which looks at driving attitude and reveals drivers’ personality traits. People who are more aggressive tend to use their vehicles as an outlet for aggression.

The DriveTech Speed Awareness Scheme (SAS) launched in July 2003 and more than 32,000 speeding offenders have now completed one of the courses. Most opting for a day in the classroom do so in a bid to avoid clocking up points on their licence.

McKenna said: ‘People are motivated to come on the course because of the points not the money. The points system does not change people’s attitudes but as a punishment the course tries to change attitude.

‘It gives people an opportunity to reflect on their driving style, with each driver being given a driving risk profile a the end of the course.’

That’s the theory – but does it work?

AS the Thames Valley course is still relatively new, there are no statistics on whether those attending go on to re-offend. However, David Richards, marketing support director at DriveTech, is confident the results will be positive.

If those on the course I visited are anything to go by, Richards has reason to be quietly confident. A course attendee said: ‘I have definitely learnt a lot and it has really made me think about speeding. It has opened up a lot of avenues, which you take for granted. Once you pass your test, you forget everything. The course is much more beneficial than licence points.’

Company director Tim Crabtree opted to attend a speed awareness course after being caught speeding on camera driving his Mercedes-Benz A-class on a familiar road near Thame. It was the second time he had been caught speeding in 18 months.

He said: ‘I would support the widespread introduction of these courses. The majority of people learn to drive when they are 17 years old and then receive no other driving advice. Since I learned to drive, car technology has improved markedly and there are many more vehicles on the road. We can all learn new skills to improve our road safety.’

DriveTech is calling on other police forces nationwide to introduce similar speed awareness schemes and says that over the next year more regions will be offering the course.

  • On the course I attended, drivers first completed the online assessment. This was followed by a two-hour seminar and then practical driver training.

    The majority were company car drivers and most quoted ‘rushing’ as their reason for speeding (see box below).

    Although the majority were late, one said that they were unfamiliar with the car and the rest didn’t know the speed limit on the road they were travelling.

    There was a distinct lack of awareness among delegates on issues not only connected to speeding but motoring in general.

    Most delegates thought motorways and dual carriageways are roads where people most likely to speed where as in reality it is rural roads and only 50% of people guessed the correct speed limits on UK roads.

    A sample of speeders on the course

    Age Sex Annual Mileage (1000s) Where caught Speed (mph) Points already Car Excuse Driving for work?
    50 male 25 Marlow 101 in 70 3 Volvo late yes
    34 female 18 A4 58 in 40 9 Toyota late yes
    32 male 8 Oxford 51 in 30 no Ford late yes
    36 male 5 Oxford 83 in 50 no Toyota late no
    29 female 8 Sandhurst 57 in 30 no Audi late no
    42 male 100 Langley 40 in 30 3 Volvo late yes
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