Speeding is not only a crime but it really does cost lives

Monday 2 February 2015

Years ago a school friend went to one of American evangelist Billy Graham’s mass rallies.

He returned an utterly changed person, preaching Graham’s muscular brand of Christianity to anyone who’d listen. Now I know what he felt like.

On Tuesday morning I attended a Government-sponsored speed awareness course. Good people, I have seen the light. Listen to my words.

I’d been clocked doing 70 in a 60mph zone on the M4. I suppose I hadn’t seen the signs, although that’s no excuse. Anyway I have a clean licence and I was offered the chance to keep it that way (and avoid a fine) by going on the course. A no-brainer, though I expected to be bored to tears.

The sessions last four hours and as I’ve been driving for more than 40 years I didn’t think I’d learn anything. The arrogance of the seasoned motorist. We think we know it all.

There were 20 or so of us in the classroom, a mixed bunch of ages, gender and ethnicity. But at the outset most of us agreed that doing, say, 32 or 33 in a 30mph zone was hardly a big deal, certainly not something worthy of a mean-spirited prosecution.

And then our genial lecturer gave us the death stats. Hit a pedestrian at 20 mph and they have a 90 per cent chance of survival. At 30mph, it’s a 50-50 toss up whether they’ll come out alive.

But with each single mile per hour above 30, the death rate rises horribly, out of all proportion to what most would see as “marginal” speeding. At 31mph the odds have already tipped in favour of fatality.

By 35mph, risk of death hovers at around 70 per cent. At 39mph, it’s practically guaranteed – five per cent chance of survival. We were shown a police video of what looked like an innocent enough “fender-bender” on a residential street.

A smart hatchback had swerved to avoid a child who’d run out into the road, and crunched gently into a parked car. Hardly any damage – to the cars. The hatchback had a slight dent to the offside wing. That’s where it had hit the child.

If the driver had been obeying the 30mph limit she would have been able to stop in time. But at 37mph (just marginal speeding?) the laws of physics made that impossible.

As they did the survival of the child: a little boy who’d been tossed onto the bonnet and had died at the scene. Brain haemorrhage. Only a closed, stupid mind could be unaffected by four hours of this calmly, almost casually delivered parade of horrors.

Unsurprisingly drivers who’ve attended such courses are three times less likely to speed in future. These sessions should form a mandatory part of the driving test. Period.

Read Richard and Judy's Express column in full here.
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