Breaking the law is so easy you don’t even think you’re doing it

A speed camera
A speed camera

I’m the world’s best driver. At least I thought I was until a formal looking large envelope dropped into my post box one day in November.

I had totally forgotten what it might be referring to. When the penny dropped I went into a hot sweat.

Sandra Chapman

Sandra Chapman

How would I divulge to Himself who thinks he’s the best driver in the world that a mobile camera van had snapped me driving out of Carrickfergus one afternoon. I had noticed it only at the last minute. Distraction is a wonderful thing.

I had heard they discard anyone driving a few miles over the limit. Surely they weren’t going to do me for 35mph in a 30mph limit? The evidence was there in black and white in front of me. I was marked down as driving at 39mph. Well, I had just been with my accountant and he had given me a rough estimate of what I would owe the tax man come January 31. Of course I was distracted. Who wouldn’t be when you realise Christmas is coming and that extra expense was going to have to be met.

The penalty, a fine and three points on my licence was the first option offered. The second was to attend a Speed Awareness Course (SAC) in lieu of the points. The course was more expensive than the fine but, hey, anything has to be better than points and a hike in next year’s car insurance.

I had heard of these courses. Treating you like a criminal, even a bit of verbal bullying, allegedly, happened to someone I know. Mobiles have to be switched off and there would be no visit to the toilet until the short lunch break. Anyone arriving late for registration would be severely penalised. We were a nervous bunch, all 23 of us, who gathered in the waiting room well before time.

One lady was pregnant, another was telling all who would listen that she was unsure of the address she was aiming for that day and must have been distracted. We all had a story to tell.

But in truth, we were all offenders. Drink driving, speeding and carelessness – in that order – are the main causes of road fatalities here of which there were 74 last year a figure which includes five children under the age of 16. Admittedly that’s much better than the annual 300 plus who died most years on the Province’s road in the 1970s.

Each year in Northern Ireland almost 1,000 drivers per week are caught speeding with the worst speeding spot being the Saintfield Road between Belfast and Carryduff.

I was caught out on a black spot elsewhere, Carrick’s Woodburn Road. Well, had I known it was a black spot for cameras I’m sure I would have paid more attention. I was aware of green fields and hedges around me, not exactly a built up area.

Camera locations sometimes defy logic. But as excess speed is clearly a key factor behind the increasing death toll on our roads then it’s obvious we should all pay more attention.

I expected the SAC to be a boring, waste of time where we would all be talked down to by ex coppers trying to boost their pensions. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I soon became transfixed at the level of psychology used to help drivers like us be more aware when we’re behind the wheel.

With clever use of video film showing up the hazards we don’t see while we’re bowling along thinking about a tax bill or what to cook for the dinner I was amazed at just how much interaction there was between us villains and the two presenters of the course. In fact they made so much sense I completely forgot about the public rows surrounding hidden speed cameras.

It’s country areas where almost double the number of road traffic accident fatalities are found. A rural dweller I’ll remember that next time I’m behind the wheel.