Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tom Gutteridge Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tom Gutteridge Columnist

Article excerpt


MY new year started in prison; I was incarcerated in Cramlington. My wardens were very friendly. They wore grey suits and tried to make light of my misery - there were 21 of us miscreants in a single cell - but nevertheless told me, in the strictest terms, that I was not allowed to leave, use my mobile phone, or, most important, nod off.

Which, over four hours with acute jetlag, was very tough justice.

I was undoubtedly guilty and had only myself to blame. I was driving to London when, somewhere in the dull flatlands of Cambridgeshire, after 200 miles of steady 70mph, I hit the sole stretch of the route with a 50mph limit. Most of my fellow prisoners seemed to have encountered a similar fate on the Western bypass.

I was doing 57. This was exactly 10% plus 2mph over the limit, which is the minimum prosecution level (one of the most interesting things I learned on the course) and put me into the "marginal" zone entitling me to swap the first ever 3 points on my licence (after 45 years of clean driving), for 4 hours on a National Speed Awareness course. Serious speeders aren't given this option - they go straight to court.

These courses are a clever device to raise money for speed cameras. They are advertised as "partnerships" between the police and the commercial organisations that run them, but in fact PS35 of the PS84 fee goes to the Northumbria Safer Road Initiative, the police-council partnership that funds the cameras that catch people to send on more courses. A really virtuous circle.

I'm aware that road safety campaigners are already composing furious letters to my editor saying that these courses are valuable contributors to road safety and have done a wonderful job in reducing accidents.

In fact, the number of fatal accidents has halved since the courses began in 2000, but as only a quarter of accidents are down to speed, and there have been many other improvements, like much safer roads and vehicles, I don't think their effectiveness is actually proven.

The affable bloke sitting next to me had been caught speeding four times and was on his second speed awareness course, but still thought that the limit on single carriageway rural roads was 50mph (it's actually 60, though navigating Northumberland's infamous potholes at any speed is not for the fainthearted). …

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