Every day, thousands of people across the UK break the law by driving too fast on our roads.

For some of these people, an unwelcome envelope will arrive in the post – they have been caught committing the offence.

In the past, motorists would have received a fine and penalty points on their licence. But now, a large proportion of them have a choice. If their speed falls within a certain range they have the chance to attend a speed awareness course under the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme (NDORS).

Managed by police forces across the country and run by providers including local councils and specialist agency AA DriveTech, the four-hour classroom-based courses are aimed at changing driver behaviour. Last year, 900,000 drivers in the UK took part.

In West Yorkshire, courses are run by Kirklees Council on behalf of West Yorkshire Police. In 2013, they ran around 1,200 courses delivered by qualified driving instructors who are trained and licensed by police nationally.

The course examines why people speed, it challenges people’s attitudes towards speeding and gives them an insight into their own driving and the pressures they face. It looks at why we have limits, and hazards within the environment, as well as advancements in vehicle design and laws such as the compulsory wearing of seatbelts, that can all help eliminate road casualties.

Julia Brown (not her real name), of Bradford, took the course at West Yorkshire Police headquarters in Wakefield. She was caught speeding on Mayo Avenue by a parked police van. “The ridiculous thing is that I knew it was a 30mph area, saw the van and thought I was doing 30 so didn’t slow down,” she says. “It is my first offence as I normally take great care to drive within the speed limits.”

She adds: “It was really useful to look at things I have not thought about in recent years, such as road signs – we looked at how, if you miss the speed sign as you enter a new speed zone, you can read the road and its surroundings to work out what the speed limit is.”

Participants have found tips such as the presence of street lights to indicate a 30mph zone, unless otherwise stated, to be of use.

The course includes data on pedestrian survival rates at certain speeds. At 20mph 97.5 per cent of people survive, at 30 the rate lowers to 80 per cent, at 35, it falls to 50 per cent and at 40mph it plummets to ten per cent.

“A small increase in speed can make a big difference,” says Dave Dobson, who delivers courses in Yorkshire for AA DriveTech. A former road traffic policeman, he has in the past performed the task of informing families of the death of loved ones.

“Every day across the country five people gets those knocks at the door – that’s 1,825 people annually,” he says, “We would like to see that number fall to four, three, two, one and in an ideal world, none.”

Dave, who also works for the road safety charity Brake, adds: “We look at the reasons and consequences of our actions. The course aims to enable drivers to gain a fuller understanding of why people drive above the speed limit and the true consequences of speeding.”

The course – which qualifying drivers can attend only once in a three-year period – is based around the so-called 4Es – education, engineering, enforcement and engagement.

“Education is key,” says driver trainer Louise Ridgeway, who also delivers courses for AA DriveTech, “Not only for adults, but at schools, with young people and children who learn pedestrian skills and cycle proficiency.”

A detailed evaluation produced in 201l by Leeds-based Brainbox Research, on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of National Driver Improvement Service Providers, concludes that 99 per cent of clients had applied what they had learned, and 91 per cent said that they had no difficulty in doing so.

Zafar Iqbal, operations manager with West Yorkshire Casualty Reduction Partnership, says: “The course, we hope, drives home a different message about the danger of speeding. Based on feedback, the courses are generally well-received.”

As the course ends, participants are asked for one thing that what they will take with them. The Brainbox research, headed by Dr Fiona Fylan of Leeds Metropolitan University, highlights comments. One states:“The tutor said that if you’re driving to work and you break the speed limit, it is just for a few minutes gain. There is no point in speeding just for that.”