I set off this afternoon to serve time for breaking the law. I am one of those people who over the years has amassed a lot of points for driving at 35-36 mph in a 30 mph zone. I am not particularly proud of this, but I have to admit I didn’t view it before this afternoon as the most heinous series of criminal activities.
Anyway, at 1.15 precisely today I was required to present myself at a conference hotel in a north Leeds suburb for a Driving Awareness Course. Another jaunt along yet another unknown dual carriageway a few months back had somehow resulted in yet another 35 mph infraction, and teetering already with 9 points on my licence, I had no choice but to attend.
I’m ashamed to say I arrived with not a little scepticism and arrogance, and was far more interested in people-watching my fellow law-breakers than reflecting on my misdoings. For a start, I was amazed at the banal normality of us all. As a group, we looked extremely ordinary and law-abiding. The sort of people you might reasonably entrust a child to in times of emergency. But don’t they say serial killers can appear quite normal? I wondered what hidden depths of aggression might be lurking. In particular, how many people had been caught doing far worse than I?
Hardly anyone, it transpired. We were a wimpy bunch of 35 mph transgressors. Most of us had simply rather embarrassingly failed to register the speed limit. I can’t say any more, because once inside the conference room we were sworn to confidentiality upon pain of points.
I may have begun in a cavalier manner: by the break I was an emotional wreck.
I now truly understand why it is significantly more dangerous to drive at 35 mph than at 30 mph, and that indeed in many situations, 30 mph may be inappropriately fast. I understand why it is critical to leave a vast amount of space between me and the car ahead, and why there is no better alternative than to drop speed when being tailgated. I am ashamed I did not fully get this before, and thank my lucky stars I have had the chance to do this course and change my previously lax attitude before something awful happened.
In short, I now have a completely different approach to driving. And consequently (after practicing being less neurotic when the kids are out and about driving with friends or as pedestrians) I am now once again set to be doling out masses of advice and cautionary admonitions to all and sundry in the family.
I clearly need to find a happy balance though. At my most traumatised point of the afternoon during the break, I sent an extremely lengthy text to Youngest Daughter who happened to be taking a different route home to go via a friend’s house. I knew she would have to cross a very busy road after getting off the bus, so I composed a missive about waiting for the bus to get clear before crossing etc. etc.
She read it aloud to her older sisters at dinner. They laughed so much they could hardly breathe. And then got cross that I didn’t care enough to send them one as well. So I think the message has probably got through. To all of us.