Yes, I got caught: 72 miles per hour on a deserted dual carriageway at a quarter to eight on a Sunday morning(!) in September with the sun pouring down and visibility perfection itself. Deserted except for the mobile camera trap on the opposite carriageway. Unfortunately I was looking at the road ahead on my side of the dual carriageway. My error.
So it was a fair cop … ish. I was exceeding the speed limit, and as I wasn’t exceeding it by much, Surrey Safety Camera Partnership (I won’t give you the web link to this. It uses such violent images and emotional blackmail that it borders on the obscene. I don’t want it associated with this blog) in deep discussion with Surrey Police (they like to have the public on their side) decided that this errant non-conformist might benefit from a Driver Speed Awareness course run by Drivetech (UK) Ltd. I attended it last week, and here is my report. It’s very long and doesn’t make easy reading.
I wandered into Guildford Spectrum Leisure Centre (the venue for the course) well before the allotted time to join a gathering throng of 19 naughty boys and girls aged 20 to 70. It SO reminded me of naughty children in school lining up outside the head’s study, I couldn’t help but chuckle, till I realised how sad this actually was: they appeared appropriately cowed and penitent, standing against the walls on either side of the entrance, playing with their phones, looking down, hiding behind their hair, avoiding eye contact, alone. Not good, I thought. All they’ve done is get caught for a mild infringement (by the Partnership’s own admission) of the speeding laws in this compliance-obsessed country. That’s all. Unfortunately for me, as I was about to find out later, if I’d appeared a bit more cowed and penitent it might have gone better for me.
I cracked a joke in these straitened circumstances (it went down like a lead balloon) to try and lighten the atmosphere, and chatted to the man next to me. How long have you been driving? 47 years, he whispered. Ever injured anyone? No. Ever had an accident? No. Then what on earth is he doing here, I wondered. We smiled at each other, curious as to what might lie ahead. We waited and waited, and eventually the Course Director and his ardent trainer arrived. Late.
The first three minutes
I was the last one to enter the room and the only chair I would fit into in this too-small crowded room was on the far side of the room. All the other classroom seats were taken. I sat down, and with passport checked, (no, really!) signed myself off on the clipboard. I was ready and waiting expectantly. What happened next shook me. The trainer walked across the room straight at me, shoved a marker pen within inches of my face and told me to write the speed I had been caught doing on the whiteboard at the front for all to see. I was shocked to say the least and gently explained that I wouldn’t be doing that. The Course Director strode across to ‘speak’ to me, demanding that I show him my papers where it says quite clearly that I must fully participate in order to pass the training. But there was no pass or fail, I’d been told. Ah, yes, but I would not be signed off as having successfully attended the course unless I participated fully. “Satisfactory completion of the course shall be determined at the absolute and sole discretion of the trainer.” It occurred to me that he had absolute power and knew it. I dared to question his power. Now if he decided he didn’t like me, I was dead.
We were less than 3 minutes into the four hour programme and I was already in trouble. I explained that I was here to learn… “Oh no you’re not, sir” he said. “You’re here to avoid three points on your licence. You’re on the wrong course. This course isn’t for you, this is for people who will participate fully and you’re not doing that. I think you need to leave.” I was gob-smacked and felt intimidated.
“But I’ve only been here three minutes and I’ve come to learn all I can.” “No you’re not.” It took me all my skills and about another five minutes to convince him. (Reason was in short supply.) By that time I had been accused of lying, maligned, embarrassed, verbally abused and bullied by the finest of them. I don’t know what everyone else in the room thought, but I was shaking and appalled. I had come to learn and was being bullied. I suddenly felt for all the school children in our country who don’t quite fit the system so experience every day what I was only experiencing for a few minutes. It was awful. I knew there was no way I was not going to submit to such disgraceful unprofessional behaviour. However, he ‘let’ me stay (how kind) nodded conspiratorially to the trainer and left the room returning only to feed the trainer with pots of take-out Costa coffee.
Not the best start, and in some ways I wished I hadn’t stayed. I may not have been in a state to be able to make a rational and objective assessment of the rest of the four hours, but all I can say is it damaged me, reinforcing all the stereotypes of ‘corrective education’ and made a mockery of the idea bandied about on the website promoting it. I later thought how ironic that the Speed Awareness Scheme is abbreviated to SAS. It felt like an SAS political re-education programme. After an unendurable amount of time of watching people being ridiculed, put down, and forced to participate in this correction-centre charade, I looked at my watch only to experience another minor shock. We weren’t even half way through. It was going to be a long afternoon.
Let’s get this in perspective. I was the worst speeding offender in the group, exceeding the limit by 12 miles per hour, 72 in a 60 limit. These people did not deserve to be punished in this way. Some of them had been caught doing just 33 in a 30 limit, yet the threat of being “sent back to the Court” (quoted several times) was used to full effect by the power-mad trainer. He had an agenda, and a list of ‘right’ answers that even the brightest and best of us in the room were unable to fathom. Let me illustrate.
What do you think the sign in the picture above means? “It’s indicates a right hand bend ahead,” said the first person. “NO.” postured the trainer, waddling up and down like a cartoon character. Having that option out of the way he turned to the next person in line, obviously looking forward to catching them out and displaying how absolutely clever he was. “It’s a warning sign,” she said timidly. “NO.” he smugly replied again. Louder this time. Gotcha. That was her sorted. Now on to the next innocent victim… What on earth am I going to come up with, I thought as I realised that the first two answers might have been the ones in the Highway Code, but they obviously weren’t on his list. I worked out there were 14 more wrong answers to go before he got to me. I started to create some entertaining possibilities for when it was my turn, but clearly I’d be regarded as non-cooperative and ‘returned to the Court” if I’d dared to voice them. And that was just the right hand bend sign. Intrigued, I started to count open and closed questions, and how many times he said ‘No’ to a trying-to-be-helpful volunteer. It went on and on.
I could go on too, but instead I’ve put the rest in my letter of complaint. I’ll let you know the result. Such behaviour cannot be ignored by reasonable citizens. We have to protest at this kind of outrageous treatment for minor infringements of ridiculous laws. For me it convinced me that this speeding business isn’t about safety at all, but about power and money and conformity. I paid £73 and a day of my time to be bullied by two people who, regardless of their intentions, modelled how to be dogmatic, arrogant, rude, and abusive. And how to misuse power. (Copied from their masters? I hope not.) All in the name of Surrey Police and the Surrey Safety Camera Partnership. I was so distracted and disturbed by what I experienced during that afternoon my driving was absolutely terrible on the way home and remained that way for the next few days. I had been shaken and traumatised, I was angry at the injustice and didn’t sleep more than two hours that night. The sad thing is, with a different underlying ethos to the programme it could have been so different, with those people keen to learn. Fortunately I’ve been able to coach myself through it to a safer (literally) place, but what about the people who don’t have that skill?
The truth is, I did learn a lot last Wednesday at the Spectrum in Guildford. Most of it I only wish I hadn’t.