by Dr Eric Saunderson
Not all motorists who are caught speeding are invited to a speed awareness course. To be invited, the speed must be no greater than:
Speed limit + 10% + 2—9mph.
There has been a lively debate within NELE over the effectiveness of speed awareness courses. Some think they are an excellent system providing training for drivers whereas others feel they are just a system to avoid penalty points and not a real punishment. But where does the truth lay and have these courses, which have become very popular throughout the country, been evaluated for their effectiveness in changing driving behaviour? Do they lead to safer, more compliant driving, or are they just a way of avoiding points? And what about speeding fines? Do they have any benefit in changing driver behaviour or are they just a punishment which is resented by those who are caught speeding? More importantly, do they make our roads safer? Speed awareness courses were developed in 2007 with the following objectives: To identify the benefits of complying with speed limits To raise awareness of appropriate attitudes towards the misuse of speed To understand the consequences of speeding and the explore the advantages and disadvantages of speeding To improve clients’ knowledge of speed limits and skills in identifying different speed limit areas To recognize personal responsibility for choice of speed To recognize the impact of each client’s driving behaviour on other road users To provide clients with the opportunity to implement their increased knowledge and skills in hazard perception
Now that is quite a list of objectives. Are they being achieved? An evaluation was commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers and published in 2011. It is the only evaluation available to date although a further evaluation is due any time soon. The investigators provided before and after questionnaires to attendees at the courses; a further questionnaire was issued to attendees three months after they attended the course.
A response rate of 31% was achieved, which in research terms, is a very good response but what about the nonresponders? Of those that responded, there was evidence that the course produced positive change in attitudes with drivers perceiving fewer advantages and more disadvantages of speeding. The course makes it easier for drivers to identify the speed limit for the area in which they are travelling and produces greater intentions to drive within the speed limit in the future. Previous research by the Department of Transport and published in 2010 showed that drivers who were not offered a course did not show these attitude changes. The follow up questionnaire showed that the attitudinal changes were maintained. Although the course was equally effective in men and women, it was the former who still maintained beliefs in the ‘safety’ of speeding, indicating the men still have some catching up to do with women. 99% of responders said they had changed their driving after attending the course, driving more slowly and being more aware of the road environment and their speed, and feeling less stressed when driving. A minority said that they found it difficult to break old habits and they sometimes felt pressurised by other drivers to speed up, particularly on motorways. Attendees reported that many aspects of the course were useful, particularly being more aware of hazard recognition, being aware that only a very small difference in mph can make a great difference to the severity of a collision, learning how to identify speed limits on roads and learning techniques to better monitor and manage their speed.
So, this evaluation gives heart for those of us who believe that education is better than punishment as the course objectives are being achieved but does it really change behaviour? Are course attendees less likely to speed and be caught again? Is there evidence to confirm this? The answer is there is not! There has been no evaluation to date of actual change in behaviour; the evidence that exists suggests that only attitudes have changed. So, there is a need for behavioural change assessment otherwise it may be that the courses are just an interesting exercise but do not make our roads safer, surely the most important reason for driver education.