I’m not a cars person. I’ve had cars of just about every type. However, I haven’t yet fallen in love with a car. Not like I’ve fallen in love with a computer before.
For years now I’ve been driving various models of Volvo. Not because I love Volvo, but because there is a dealership ten minutes away from where I live.
If the dealership was Mercedes, then be sure, I’d have been driving Mercedes for that period. I like the convenience of the dealership. And the fact that Chris, the guy who sold me the first one, is now a pal. At the end of each year he simply rings me and says: “I’ll have your new one ready on Friday.” And that’s it. I don’t have to think about cars at all in my life.
So, you’d think, with that lack of interest in cars, I’d probably have a lack of interest in driving, right?
Spending as much time as I do in cabs and planes, it’s sometimes nice just to get behind the wheel and take control yourself.
I’m going somewhere with this, by the way, just hang on in.
The problem I have, is that I always drive too fast. I’m a notorious speeder. I know I do it. I’m always in a hurry to get somewhere, is what I used to believe. So I could counter my frequent guilty conscience about speeding through traffic lights just as they’re turning red, or doing 90 miles an hour in the outside lane of the motorway, just by convincing myself it was necessary because “I had to be somewhere.”
Up until three years ago, my driving licence looked like my passport. It was completely cluttered with stamps and endorsements for just about every traffic violation, but mainly speeding. Here in the UK a speeding offence means 3 points on your licence and a 60 pound fine (about 100 dollars). But when you hit the 12 point mark – you get banned from driving and lose your licence.
So after three years of either driving more slowly, or not getting caught (or a mixture of both) I finally had a CLEAN driving licence.
Until a speed camera got me on the way into my UK office a few weeks ago. But this time I didn’t just shrug my shoulders and go “there you go again” as usual. This time I was furious. I had been caught travelling at 35 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone. And they were going to fine and give me three points for that? If I’d been caught doing 90 on the motorway, as usual, fair enough. But 35 in a 30 zone. This, I thought, was ridiculous.
Then, I received a letter telling me that, if I was prepared to pay 60 pounds to complete a three hour speed awareness course, run by the Association of Chief Police Officers, my licence would remain intact.
Ah, I could feel the clean, untouched crispness of the licence already. So I was in.
Three bloody hours with a bunch of other speeders who should know better. And some police officer waving his finger around and telling us how ashamed of ourselves we should be. Well that’s what I thought it would be, anyway.
However, it turned out to be one of the most fascinating insights I’ve had of myself in as long as I can remember.
The course took place in the computer suite of a very high-tech building. A guy who was not a policeman at all, but an advanced driver, introduced us to the work of Frank McKenna, Professor in the Department of Psychology at Reading University.
Dr McKenna has prepared a number of interactive exercises we all had to go through and get marked on. First there was a detailed questionnaire about our driving habits (this was all strictly confidential) which we had to answer VERY honestly, as we were told.
So I did that. And then it was game-time. Well not really. This is where we had to do a series of driving exercises in our virtual cars. Monitors on and off we go down the high street. There were old ladies stepping into the road, cars zooming out of hidden junctions, everything you encounter on the real roads. And the computer (via our mouse movements) was scoring our observation and timing.
Needless to say, when I sat in the break and read my results, I was ashamed. Not only was my speed always “above average” my “distraction level” was above average and my “emotional” level was also “above average. In short, in the real world, I became aware of the facts that: I drive to fast; I mess around with my iPod and the sound system in the car far too much; I’m almost constantly on the phone and I sometimes let my mood determine how I’m driving (i.e. too fast if I’m stressed and annoyed with myself for being late).
At the end of the three hour session we were shown some video evidence to compound the reason we had been offered the course. All of us in the room still thinking that 35 in a 30 zone was a bit trivial to be penalized so harshly for.
The preceding statistics were horrifying. Only 20% of all collisions and fatalities actually take place on the motorways of the UK. But 80% take place in 30 mile per hour zones, such as town streets, suburbs and the like.
Then the video we were shown brought it all home. An advanced police driver placed two cones a short distance form a cardboard cut-out of a child. He drove the car until it was level with the cones either side of the road and performed an emergency stop.
At 30 miles per hour he stopped right in front of the child.
He then did the same thing again, but this time at 32 miles per hour. The breaking distance was too short and he tapped the cardboard cut-out and knocked it over. This could badly injure a child.
Finally he did the same thing again, but this time at 35 miles per hour. The breaking distance was so short he hit the cardboard cut-out and sent it flying into the air. Most certainly a collision that would be fatal.
And that’s when everyone in the room realised why we were sitting there.
The final thought we were left with was straight to the point. If it had been one of us who had killed the child and the mother asked us “why were you speeding” would the answer: “I was running late for a meeting” be of any consolation to her?
Today, I drove at 30 miles per hour in all those zones. Not 32 and certainly not 35. It’s hard because you feel like you could get out and walk quicker. It’s frustrating because people overtake you with that “jeez asshole, get a move on” look on their face. But I’m determined to use what I learned as a new year’s resolution to drive more carefully in built up areas, from now on.
Don’t you just love blogs? A place to come and bare your soul, repent and move on to something else about search engines.
And I will do. But in between, I’ll be heading to my wife’s treasured “Mother Russia” for New Year, St Petersburg style.