Changing driving conditions need ongoing driver training

Trevor Ellis, chairman of the ITS UK Enforcement Interest Group, considers the role of ongoing driver training in increasing compliance. It is over 30 years since I passed my driving test. The world was quite a different place then, in that there were only half the vehicles there are now on the UK's roads, mobile phones did not really exist and (in the UK at least) the vast majority of us drove cars which by today's standards exhibited dreadful dynamic stability and were woefully underpowered.
Enforcement / January 23, 2012
Driving Training Course
The UK has a wide range of driving training courses in use.

Trevor Ellis, chairman of the 288 ITS UK Enforcement Interest Group, considers the role of ongoing driver training in increasing compliance

It is over 30 years since I passed my driving test. The world was quite a different place then, in that there were only half the vehicles there are now on the UK's roads, mobile phones did not really exist and (in the UK at least) the vast majority of us drove cars which by today's standards exhibited dreadful dynamic stability and were woefully underpowered.

I passed my driving test at the first attempt, after having had around 10 lessons, and since that glorious day I have been permitted to drive any car or light goods vehicle I please. This is not only on UK roads, but in any other country I care to visit.

To put this in context: I have been granted autonomous control of several tonnes of metal capable of moving at high speed in close proximity to other more vulnerable road users (cyclists, pedestrians and so on) and yet in more than three decades the additional training I have received to keep me up to this task has amounted to precisely nothing.

Along with everyone else, I know that I am a good driver, in sharp contrast to many of the other drivers I come across on my journeys. To criticise a person's driving is to question his or her very being. And yet for such an arduous and potentially dangerous task we are somehow expected to adapt to the changing world without any further guidance or checks to ascertain whether we remain competent.

Of course there are voluntary further training schemes for drivers. In the UK, the Institute of Advanced Motorists runs courses and there is the excellent Pass Plus scheme for newly qualified drivers. However the very fact that these courses are voluntary might lead one to speculate that it is likely to be the more responsible drivers that attend.

Staying in the UK, there is another series of training courses specifically aimed at the less responsible driver. The Speed Awareness Course (SAC) is the best-known of these although there are others (see Sidebar, 'UK driving training courses'). SACs were introduced in 2005 and are aimed at drivers who have exceeded the speed limit by a small amount; the country's Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines put this as being 10 per cent over the posted speed limit, plus an additional 6mph (10km/h). For police forces running such schemes, offenders might be offered the chance to attend a SAC as an alternative to the normal £60 (US$100/€70) fine, plus three penalty points. The course attendee pays for the cost of the course, which will not be less than the £60 fixed penalty and may be more.

SACs are aimed at exploring the reasons why drivers exceed the speed limits, making them more aware of the consequences of their actions and changing their attitudes and beliefs in relation to driving at inappropriate speeds.

Course effectiveness

Truly scientific research is difficult due to the absence of directly comparable sample groups that have and have not been on a course. Nevertheless, the research that has taken place indicates that they lead to a reduction in re-offending rates of 50-68 per cent.

Are they popular? Presently around 34-40 per cent of all speeding fixed penalty notices are referred to a SAC, some 350,000 people last year, and prior to the recent funding changes this percentage had been climbing. Of those attending the courses, more than 90 per cent report that they learned something new and changed their attitude to speeding; 95 per cent reported that they had modified their behaviour. An 1459 AA survey showed more than 80 per cent of those they surveyed support the courses.

So are SAC's targeting the right people? By definition the attendees are the minor, not the major, offenders. A fuller answer requires a more considered look at the psychology of speeding and the types of offenders. A UK Department for Transport study divided offenders into a number of categories: unintentional speeders (those who do not know the limit, or may speed through a lapse in attention); moderate occasional speeders (those who consider themselves to be safe and skilled drivers, and who exceed the limit by a level they believe to be relatively low - these drivers are normally law-abiding and do not gain pleasure from speeding); and frequent high speeders (drivers who are aware that they drive faster than average and who, while acknowledging that this represents an increased risk, nevertheless believe that they are safe despite the fact of reporting more accidents - these drivers experience more pleasure and emotional outlet from driving, are usually more experienced drivers, and are much more likely to be men than women).

Clearly, changing the behaviour of these different categories needs to be addressed in different ways. It is also apparent that those offered SACs are more likely to be in the first two categories. In summary, then, it can be said that SACs are popular and effective but are only offered when someone has already offended and may not be targeting the worst offenders.

Non-UK experiences

In the Netherlands, there are training courses aimed at people who drive under the influence of drink or drugs, and also those that are guilty of dangerous driving. These are however aimed only at the most serious offenders - those convicted under criminal law. The course is mandatory, is ordered by the courts at the time of sentencing, and is in addition to any other penalties.

In Germany, if a driver accumulates over 18 penalty points, he or she loses his or her licence, however a driver can take a training course that will deduct up to four of these points from his or her licence. Similarly, in France a driver loses his or her licence for 12 points but up to four can be deducted by taking a suitable training course.

In the USA, Victim Impact Panels (VIPs) are a common method of educating drunk drivers. These involve putting the offender in the same room as people who have lost loved ones to a drunk driver. The idea is that the traumatic stories of the victims' nearest and dearest will change offending drivers' attitudes. VIPs have been running since 1989 and have been found to work best when the victims talk to small groups.


The future of SACs

In a previous article for ITS International, I bemoaned the crisis in funding of speed enforcement in the UK. In June 2010, the UK Government withdrew the grants to local authorities for Safety Camera Partnerships (SCPs), declaring "an end to the war on motorists". I wrote that this would lead to closure of the SCPs and an increase in road deaths. I also suggested that the UK Government should find a way of continuing to fund SCPs while looking at other ways of gaining compliance with speed limits and getting drivers to drive at appropriate speeds. However, recent newspaper articles have suggested that there are discussions on funding safety cameras from income charged to motorists to attend SACs.

On the face of it, this seems to have a double benefit: more speed awareness courses and funding for speed cameras.

So is this the perfect solution? Definitely not in my opinion. It fails to recognise that the whole purpose of SACs is to change the attitudes and opinions of drivers. The single biggest criticism levelled at the SCPs has been that they were just there to make money from fines. The image is of the hapless motorist milked of money for a minor transgression. Indeed, in 2007 the UK Government was soUK driver training courses

The UK has a wide range of driving training courses in use. These include:

• National Driver Improvement Scheme - this 1.5 day course is offered to some drivers judged to be "driving without due care and attention". Again this may be an alternative to a fine and points. This is a wide-ranging course and covers theory, training methods and on-road training.

• Young Driver scheme - targeted mainly at under-25 year-olds caught speeding. The course concentrates on the particular issues facing young people, for example the high usage of cars for social purposes.

• Drink/drive rehabilitation courses - ordered by the courts in some cases, and can reduce the period of disqualification by 25 per cent.

• Traffic light offences - only two courses in the UK, and targeted towards red light offenders.

• Mobile phone - three courses in the UK, targeted at those caught using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel. Again, attendance can be an alternative to points and a fine.

stung by this criticism that it changed funding of the partnerships from hypothecation of the fine income to a direct grant - the very grant that has now been withdrawn.

So it seems we are now taking a backwards step, handing ammunition to the critics of speed enforcement and feeding the suspicion that SACs are all about making money rather than saving lives. This point has not been missed by the mass media, who also point out that several police forces have recently substantially increased their fees for SACs. The proposed arrangement may be marginally better than simply stopping speed enforcement but I feel there must be a better way of funding SCPs and safety cameras which will not jeopardise the high level of public support for SACs to date.

It seems to me that we should start to regard driver training in the same way that doctors, nurses, pilots and many other professions with people's lives in their hands regard training. This is as continuous development, and not a one-off exercise. Perhaps every few years, all drivers should attend a training course, where they could be updated on

changing traffic law, new hazards, new driver aids, driving overseas and my own pet hate - the hazards of using mobile phones while driving. In this way, we have a chance to influence all classes of drivers, before they offend or have an accident.

As for me, latest research has indicated that those that passed their driving test at the second attempt have fewer accidents, fewer points on their licence, are less prone to road rage and frighten their passengers less than those that passed at the first attempt.

So perhaps I should book myself onto one of those courses..

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