Speed and speed awareness

Motorcycle accidents | Speed awareness courses | SP30




Iíve never fallen off a motorcycle.

Amazing, but trueóand not that Iím an exceptional rider. Quite the opposite. The main reason I havenít slipped my perch is because Iím such a bloody coward and have never done anything to seriously antagonise the laws of friction, gravity or inertia.

I donít do wheelies. I donít do stoppies. Iíve never bruised a footrest or skinned a silencer. And Iíve never lost a pillion. Instead, I straddle a bike, fire it up, snick it into gear, pull away smoothly and cleanly, brake gently, and do my utmost to stay perpendicular to the driest and least speculative strip of oncoming asphalt.

So okay, occasionally I let rip on a tinder-dry open bend and lean a couple of degrees to the east or west (relative to my north-south direction of travel). And once or twice Iíve accelerated hard enough to make the rear tyre give a polite ďpeepĒ. But thatís as far as it goes. I know my limits, and Iím staying well within them. And up to a point, Iíve actually had a pretty good time on two wheels.


My total mileage, mind you, isnít actually all that great at perhaps 200,000.  But Iíve spent thirty-odd years bikeboard. I was a London despatch rider in my youth and clocked up maybe 400-500 miles on a very good week. Iíve travelled fairly widely in the UK, mainland Europe and the USA. Iíve road tested (for want of a better word) hundreds of bikes. And for at least a decade of that time, my only transport was my trusty 750cc Triumph Bonneville.

And Iíve never fallen off.

I got close mind. A quarter of a century ago a drunk driver ran into me and temporarily pinned me and motorcycle against a parked car, at which point I gently stepped off the bike and [FOR LEGAL REASONS, THE REST OF THIS SENTENCE HAS BEEN DELETED - ED].
On another occasion, a woman driver aggressively thumped the back of my Triumph, and I hastily laid it down on the tarmac and [THIS HAS ALSO BEEN DELETED - ED].
And once, after interviewing the late Mickey Most, record producer, I was leaving his very des res at walking speed and had a Triumph America slowly slip away on thick thatch of wet driveway leaves resulting in a couple of near invisible scratches, a pulled calf muscle and a red face. But that was hardly dropping a bike. It was more like laying it gently to rest and recomposing myself.

Itís a similar story with my driving experience. Hundreds of thousands of miles in family saloons, vans, light trucks and even HGVs, both at home and abroad. And Iíve never planted one in a hedge, or flipped one, or had a serious prang; just a few relatively minor scrapes and scratches in my distant youth.

Iím not a great driver, remember.

Just ultra cautious.

So when I got a speeding ticket a few years ago, youíll understand that I was mildly miffed. Iíd been motoring through Northamptonshire with the missus (no, the current missus) and whilst travelling at a nosebleeding 34mph in a near glacial 30mph zone, I zoomed past a rural forward facing camera. I didnít even get a flash to mark the moment. I simply received a missive in the mail telling me I was nicked.

My first speeding ticket and the threat of an SP30. I was mortified. My insurance premium was about to rise by a tenner at least, so you can imagine my relief when I saw that there was a GET OUT OF JAIL card in the envelope. All I had to do was fork out around eighty quid and sit through a speed awareness course (SAC). That would expiate my cardinal sin of excess velocity, and the virginity of my otherwise clean driving licence would be preserved; technically speaking, anyway.

Naturally, I opted for the SAC. And I wish I hadnít. Under the same circumstances, Iíd rather be gang-raped by the England Rugby Team than suffer another superior, Lord-of-creation lecture about the regulation gap twixt streetlights in urban areas, or the stopping distance of an average modern hatchback at + OR - 30mph, or the implications of a couple of wiggly lines in a triangular shaped piece of tin stuck on a post near a bloody river, and then having my underwear lowered and my nether end spanked into submission in order to re-program my social attitudes regarding the Queenís highway.

Fact is, when it comes to speed awareness, pretty much everyone attending those stupid courses are the drivers and riders who LEAST need to be there. These, after all, are the poor sods who got pinched for being just a handful of mph over the posted limit. The more serious offenders get the luxury of a dignified fine and a magisterial endorsement and arenít seduced by the bogus option of sitting in a classroom having their brains scrambled by Mr Perfect wittering on about the minutiae of transport legislation and Highway Code orthodoxy.

And hereís a salient point: if itís okay to drive at 30mph on a wet rural A-road at night in December, you wouldnít think that 34mph on the same road in dry afternoon sunshine in May would be considered inherently dangerous or socially reprehensible. In fact, 30mph wet is probably equivalent to 50mph dry, noise considerations notwithstanding.

But you canít tell that to a speed camera or the folk herding the speed awareness cash cows. You canít explain to these guys that most road users after a few decades on the frontline have long since learned to drive sensibly and safely NOT according to the mystifying rubric of British road signs, or the regulation gap between street lamps, or the amount of damage cause by a vehicle colliding with a child at varying speeds between zero and 200mph, but by paying close attention to the immediate conditions, by thinking far ahead, and by driving well within their limitations.

We all KNOW that all speed damage hurts. We all KNOW that we should slow in urban areas. We all KNOW that certain road signs will always be a mystery no matter how often we hammer them into our heads.

Whatís really needed is a total review of the way we treat road safety in the UK. Ideally we need to take the sex and machismo out of motoring ads. And like it or not, we need to include power limits, both for motorcycles and carsóand we need to not only cap top speed and horsepower, but cap acceleration rates.

For some offences we donít need heavier fines. A fine is, after all, just a voluntary tax and a licence to re-offend. Instead we need a one-strike-and-youíre-out-policy with seriously long-term bans. Who says so? Around 1,700 motoring dead last year.

And while I remember, we really should NOT be paying special attention to motorcycles on the road. Itís a mistake. Instead, we should be paying special attention to EVERYONE. Never mind defensive riding or driving. Try a little defensive living.

Meanwhile, we ought to learn to stump up for our essential services, which includes funding more traffic cops who can make fair decisions on the spot rather than rely on the blunt and divisive instrument of speed cameras. We need driver re-tests every so often until our declining years get a grip, and then maybe at decreasing intervals. We need regular and subliminal primetime public service adverts on TV CONSTANTLY driving home the multifarious and more subtle dangers of the road rather than try to indoctrinate the walking wounded en masse and ad nauseum during soporific speed awareness courses.

And yes, Iíve seen the propaganda stats telling me that SAC re-offending rates are impressively low. Just remember that most of these offenders were as near as damn it on the right side of the law in the first bloody place.

But the reality is that we ainít gonna see much or any of this in the foreseeable future, not when (mercifully) road deaths are still on a downward slope. Why? Because collectively weíre stupid. We still treat motoring as a right rather than a privilege.

So with all my bad habits and unconventional attitudes to UK driving would I pass another UK driving test?

Not so long ago, I did just that.

Letís move on.



ó Danny DeFazio




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