Belfast Telegraph

Kill your speed and you might help someone live

Do you have an ICE number in your mobile phone? Neither had Kathryn Johnston until she took a speed-awareness course

I've always thought that anyone who doesn't slow down at the sight of a police car is probably parked. Like Mr Toad, the road hog from Wind in the Willows, I always escaped.

But then, like Toad, I got my comeuppance. He got prison. I was lucky; I just got clocked by a PSNI safety camera van.

I kidded myself for years that, like Emerson Fittipaldi, I had amazing anticipation, co-ordination, and reflex. But I was no world champion, so it was hardly surprising I got caught doing 40 in a 30.

When I was offered an AA DriveTech speed-awareness course at a cost of £86, rather than three points on my licence and a fine, I snapped it up. Over the last 18 months, more than 40,000 motorists here have been offered the same.

It was a necessary evil, I reasoned, as I joined the other 23 participants last week at a Coleraine hotel. I imagined them reckless recidivists, who think anybody driving slower than them is an idiot, and anyone going faster is a maniac.

Far from it. The courses are designed for people like me, who have been clocked just a few miles above the speed limit.

Men outnumbered women four to one and most of us were (ahem) middle-aged. Like the instructor himself, who had been caught years ago doing 36 in a 30, we simply hadn't been aware we were over the limit.

The aim is to increase awareness - 'funnel vision, not tunnel vision' - and to create the same stigma against speeding as drink-driving. After all, would you have one for the road these days?

Yet one in four deaths is caused by speed, including driving below the speed limit and travelling too fast for road conditions.

Group work on hazard perception and multiple-choice questions using hand-held devices, statistical presentations and films illustrating the dangers of excessive speed made for an intensive session.

Some of it was plain commonsense. How about speeding because you're late, one of the most common excuses given to police? Set your alarm clock earlier.

Or you could blame it on the boogie. Blues fans are the most likely to be caught speeding, while Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell is the single most popular driving song. Me, I go for Queen's Don't Stop Me Now.

We all fell silent when our instructor gave us the stats on fatalities. Motorways are relatively safe, accounting for only 6% of road deaths, urban roads account for 34%, with the majority - 60% - on rural roads.

My personal wake-up call was slides showing the aftermath of an actual accident.

The first showed an empty urban road approaching a bend; then the bus stop just around the bend; on the third, a police officer measured the spot where a young boy had left the bus to cross the road before being hit by a car coming round the bend.

On the other side, maybe 20 metres away, was the shattered windscreen of the car he had bounced off before landing on the road. The boy died. Like me, the driver had been doing 40 in a 30. A pedestrian hit at that speed has a 90% probability of death.

That might have been when the instructor asked if we had an ICE (In Case of Emergency) number on our phones.

Paramedics can unlock most mobiles found at a crash, but it's not so easy to find the one contact who knows the victim's medical history.

An ICE number helps paramedics and doctors save valuable minutes during the 'golden hour' where they have the greatest chance of saving life, or reducing trauma.

Did the course work? I'm definitely driving more mindfully. I watch my speed on motorways. I scan the road ahead for hazards and I drive in third gear on urban roads to stop my speed creeping up.

Here's another thing I learned: reducing your speed cuts fuel consumption, too. Bit of a no-brainer, isn't it?

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