Guilty as charged

Published Thursday, 14 March 2013
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Unlike Chris Huhne, I pleaded guilty from the start.

I had been travelling up the Upper Newtownards Road in a rush - I'd left my mobile phone at a friend's house - late one night and suddenly...


I'd been caught. The not-so-subtle letter from the police plonked itself on my doormat soon afterwards, with the screaming title 'NOTICE OF INTENDED PROSECUTION'.

And they had photographic evidence. I was bang-to-rights. 37 miles per hour in a 30 zone.

Thankfully, because I have no penalty points on my licence, I had the option of taking a speed awareness course. The points were £60, the course was £86.81, but meant I wouldn't have the points.

A no-brainer.

So the fated day arrived, and off I went to the Stormont Hotel for my four hours of shame. I had visions of the nun in Father Ted pouring continuous ice into a bath where I would be shouted at and then hit with a big stick by someone shouting "THIRTY SEVEN IN A THIRTY ZONE! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?".

But it turned out to be something different. I looked around me as it started at the ungodly hour of 7.45am. There were 24 people who looked like me. Old people, young people, professional people, manual workers, pensioners and young drivers. One lady even described herself as a 'pillar of the community' in the break. She, like me, had just gone a few miles over the speed limit, and been caught.

Admittedly a tad bum-numbing at four hours, the course was nonetheless very interesting and informative. It's fascinating - and scary - how just a few miles an hour can make a difference. If you hit a pedestrian at 30mph, 20% will die. If you are driving just a few miles an hour more, like I was when I was caught, 50% of pedestrians will die in a collision. Raise that to 40mph, and it's 90, say RoSPA figures.

We were shown a video of a car stopping as part of the course. Just a tiny difference in speed can make all the difference. In the example, stopping at 30mph meant the driver did not hit a pedestrian. Just going two mph more, 32mph, and the pedestrian was hit at a force of 11mph. At 35mph, the impact was 18mph.

We also got to vote on various assumptions we had about driving. Frequently, we were wrong. Although I did learn that you can drive at 70mph on dual carriageways. I'd been bumping along at 60mph previously.

There were a few cringe-making moments, one was when our presenter said; "Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly", which, for me anyway, was at least breaching the penumbra of David Brentism.

But it was generally an excellent course, and well worth taking. I hope I never have to take it again.

And I've slowed down.

At £86.81 a pop, it's not a cheap way to learn a lesson. But it could stop you experiencing a much more expensive one.

© UTV News
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Peter Cardwell
Peter Cardwell

Peter graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in history and politics despite mainly sleeping, eating tomato soup and drinking too much Sainsbury's own brand wine whilst there.

He was also a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in New York, where after forgetting to wear make-up for one of his TV reports he was memorably described by an ABC News executive as "the white kid from Hell." He also wrote his first article for The Portadown Times aged 12. Yes, he was one of THOSE children.

After working for Newsnight, BBC Washington, Question Time, Sky News and a certain public service radio programme fronted by a somewhat rotund presenter on a rival network, Peter decided his destiny lay with the good people of UTV, and started his dastardly masterplan of working his way into Havelock House.

His lifetime ambition is to buy a full-priced sofa from DFS.

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