3 Lessons That A Scary Motorway Accident Taught Me…

3 Lessons That A Scary Motorway Accident Taught Me...

2 days ago I was involved in a pretty terrifying motorway accident.

For a moment during the accident I was absolutely certain that I was going to be either killed or very badly maimed (and I’m not going to tell you which of those two choices I was praying for).

Somehow though, when all of the action stopped, I crawled out of my car without a scratch (I do now have whiplash which bizarrely only really started to be noticeable a whole 24 hours later – maybe because of adrenaline or something).

My first feeling was relief then I was overcome with anger at the driver of the lorry that had clipped the back of my car and caused me to spin off the motorway. I couldn’t be angry with him for long though because he was a really nice man and very apologetic. There was one funny moment when he offered to give me all of his details and I showed him I couldn’t write because my hands were shaking so much – he held out his hands and showed that he was shaking too. So we were sitting in his cabin like two of the worlds worst Elvis impersonators.

So unfortunately my lovely little Polo that I have written about before on this site is now my ex-lovely little Polo that I have written about before on this site.

Total write-off.

Aside curiosity re: airbags: My car was an old car and as I said, for a moment I was terrified of the injuries that would have been possible in such an accident – there were a few moments where I think I needed to take action in terms of steering and I’m curious as to what difference an airbag would have made. First of all when my car was pushed, I was afraid of being pushed into the outside (fast) lane which had a lot of traffic. I can’t remember because it all happened so fast but I think I steered away from that. Secondly when the car was in front of the truck for a brief moment, if the airbag had activated then, I wouldn’t have been able to steer out of trouble later when the car went off the motorway and was in danger of rolling (because the soft verge was a slope) and I think I also steered away from that – i.e. an airbag is an important safety device these days, but at what point do they activate? Presumably if they do they would cause you to lose any control over the direction of the vehicle which I think could have been fatal in the accident I just had.

I certainly experienced a few mixed emotions through the course of this little event: In another moment of the experience as the car was traveling backwards at speed and I’d regained a little control of the vehicle, I remember being struck by how surreal the whole experience was and it felt like I was in a scene from a James Bond movie.

Anyways, here’s what I have learned from the experience:

1. A Car is Not An Asset (Or At Least Is Very Rarely An Asset)

Of course I knew that anyway.

I did.

But you get attached to cars, don’t you?

Plus I was intrigued by the idea of this car being my car for the rest of my life. This cheap little car. So I started investing in it along the lines of replacing parts one by one with the very best available parts I could find.

The added bonus being the education aspect, learning more about my car and basic mechanics in the case of each part I could learn to change myself.

I knew in the back of my mind that the risk of such a strategy was that it only worked as long as the car was lucky enough to be untouched by an accident – well, as if to prove the point, along comes the mother of all accidents.

For example I got some shock absorbers and heavy duty coil springs which I had waited 4 months for after making a special order from France (the only place you can get heavy duty springs for my (ex-) car. The reason for ordering these is because I used my car for so much (e.g. all of our family, plus the dog in the car, plus some luggage and 4 bikes on the roof) including transporting heavy building materials that I wanted to make (became obsessed with making) the car as strong and rugged as possible.

Sods law – I was actually traveling back down the M1 having been in the north of England to visit a friend, to get those special order springs installed the next morning (i.e. would have been yesterday morning) but instead they’ll stay in their cardboard boxes. Because they were special order, I can’t take them back or get my money back for them.

So I could perhaps have argued this strategy was investing in a car that I was going to keep, making it stronger, safer, more enjoyable…

I loved that car.

… it’s a pretty tenuous argument.

In the eyes of any insurance company it’s just an old car.

All of that money I ‘invested’ (truth=’spent’) on the car I won’t get back.

The one investment that really was an investment was in the knowledge I gained from working on the car. In tinkering, caring and taking a serious interest in how my car worked and was put together, I did still save a lot of money (e.g. in any maintenance that was 100% needed), was safer and effectively trained myself in some basic mechanics.

You can’t take that away from me – education is some of the best investment you can make.

Education is some of the best investment you can make.

So the advice: Buy an old car and run it into the ground is good advice from a wealth point of view because a car is not an asset, as is the advice to invest in what you have, but generally speaking, whilst it’s a good idea to look after your car (so it lasts longer and is safe) and to maintain it well, if you’re going to spend money on it beyond that (as I have been guilty of), at least be aware that this is a risky investment as it could be money down the drain if your car is written off.

The second bit of advice there is really ‘Invest in your assets‘ and the truth is that a car isn’t an asset (more of a liability due to cost of upkeep and depreciation).

Another point of view is to look at it in terms of the risk of an accident happening in the first place and as this is an extremely rare and unfortunate incident, perhaps through that lens, spending money on your car still scrapes into the investment bucket assuming you’re going to keep the thing (though I was very conscious every time I spent money on my car that it could be wasted in the event of an accident – I thought about that a lot so, law of attraction people fans: go ahead and have a field day!).

The exception to this rule is of course classic cars which are well looked after but that’s still assuming you keep them out of trouble.

2 – Everyone Has Their Own Perspective

Something I bang on about all the time

Everybody has their own view of the world.

Or of a particular incident.

My accident had a lot of witnesses as it was on a busy motorway and caused a lot of people to stop.

5 witnesses in particular (including the truck driver and the driver of the car immediately in front of the truck) appeared next to me and 4 out of 5 of the witnesses saw the same thing – that the truck had hit the back left side of my car – he hadn’t seen me and hit me when changing lanes, causing me to spin, get pushed along in front of his truck for a while, then get thrown out the other side, off the motorway and onto the soft verge.

One witness had a different story. He started shouting at me and telling me how stupid I was swerving in front of the truck like that at high speed, that I was really stupid and could have caused a pile-up. He was really angry with me. From his position he hadn’t seen the truck hit me and assumed I had caused the accident.

I have no idea how he didn’t see the truck moving, maybe it didn’t need to move that much, maybe the front part of the truck moved first and he couldn’t see that from where he was or maybe he wasn’t paying attention and he assumed what happened, filling in the gaps sub-consciously.

That was worrying for a moment but the other witnesses soon put that guy straight and a couple of motorway worker types in high-vis jackets appeared and told me ‘don’t worry, we saw everything’.

Interesting though how something that was so clear to most of the witnesses was so different to someone else.

3 – Human Life Is Fragile

Life is fragile.

When you go through an experience like this, you can’t help but think back and wonder if there’s anything you could or should have done differently to prevent it from happening.

The scary conclusion I came to when asking myself that question is: not much. Though I do now know a little more about where the biggest blind-spots are for foreign lorries (left hand drive lorries in countries where you drive on the left or right hand drive lorries in countries where you drive on the right), in such heavy traffic it would be difficult to avoid being adjacent to a lorry at any time at all.

What is very obvious to me is how easily this accident happened and how the same thing could happen to anyone. The authorities (motorway rescue, police & motorway maintenance staff) told me this is a carbon copy of a very common accident – i.e. particularly between small cars and foreign lorries – because from the opposite side of the cabin, they can’t look down through the mirror to double check if there is a car there where their mirrors don’t show anything.

We spend a lot of time getting stressed and caught up in day-to-day problems.

We worry a lot about things, sometimes even about things we can’t change or have no control over (one of Cicero’s 6 mistakes of man).

We get busy and caught up in thinking too much about the little things, we lose our perspective.

I have been very fortunate to escape this accident lightly and coming out of the other side of it. Aside from a little neck ache, it’s a useful reminder for me to keep things in perspective.

The biggest lesson of all here is that life is very fragile indeed.


3 Lessons That A Scary Motorway Accident Taught Me… — 15 Comments

  1. My take on this is different. Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things you’ll do. As long as you don’t buy a car less than 2-3 years old, the year-on-year depreciation of a car is pretty low. E.g. if you buy a £10k car it’ll probably lose around £1k a year. Buying a £3k car, it might lose say £300 a year, all you save is £700 a year.

    So given an expensive car doesn’t cost much more than a cheap car, buy the most expensive used and *safest* car you can afford. Safest is probably “modern”. A dozen years ago, airbags were a novelty. Now the list of things that make cars safer is huge, and I’ve researched them all in depth myself. Electronical stability control (helps you control skids), seatbelt pretensioners (tightens the seatbelt during a crash), far more airbags, stiffened body cages, antilocking “ABS” brakes, better designed interiors to be less “sharp”, and if your budget stretches, “collision mitigation” (slams on the brakes before your reactions kick in, when collision is imminent), adaptive cruise control (maintains a constant distance to the car in front), lane change warning systems (detects a car next to you if you try to change lanes, and warns you), even clearer labelling of the location of wiring and stiffer parts, so a fireman can more quickly cut you out after a bad accident.

    So forget the alloy wheels, forget the high end stereo and buy yourself a moderately recent, moderately large car, that you’ve reasearched to be the safest in its class. Your life and that of those around you is worth it.

    • Hey Will,

      thanks for this comment – I am with you 100% – but I don’t agree with you 100%.

      It’s fascinating the new features of really modern cars, but some of the things you talk about are only available in really very recent cars. Technology has always fascinated me as much as simplicity so though I really loved my simple old Polo, it was a straight choice between that and a very new, or ‘almost new’ car – and nothing in-between.

      Where I don’t agree with you is the maths.

      The car I just lost cost me £500 (£350 if you deduct the £150 I got for scrapping the previous one to make way for this one, but I’d have that same difference with a new car).

      It passed 2 MOTs, both of which cost me nothing more than the cost of the MOT – and would have passed the next one, the advantage being that, being such a simple car, I could service it myself and knew the car inside-out.

      The main concern I have is if something goes wrong – a new car is a liability in that sense – something we’ve experienced twice now is malicious damage to a wing-mirror – in a new car, the cost to repair that could be nearly as much as I paid for the entire (old) car – we were quoted £350 to fix my wife’s electric wing mirror (sealed unit) which someone had just snapped off for fun on a night out in Newcastle – we returned to the car to see it hanging by the wires. The same issue probably wouldn’t happen at all with the old Polo, but if it did, it would be next to free to fix.

      So I don’t agree with you on the maths, and I have a curiosity about airbags (which by the way, my new car has), but I can’t argue with you on the other safety features and I do agree that with some variability around the type of car, negotiating a good deal, selling it effectively and getting your timing right (all of which are less important when dealing with a cheap, old car), then buying a new car is not as expensive as you might think – assuming nothing goes wrong with it!

  2. Hey Jerry,

    thanks & thanks for the comment – glad to hear you’re OK too!

    In my case, the time being pushed in front of the truck didn’t last too long, and I was kind of ‘spat’ out of the other side somehow. Probably something to do with my momentum or perhaps I reacted by trying to accelerate more away from the danger, I really don’t remember.

    What I do remember is that feeling which you also described – though my biggest fear was getting mangled somehow.

    Just out of curiosity, did you have a car with airbags and did these fire?

    My guess is that only certain impacts cause them to activate but I don’t know – I would like to think so because in my case, airbags would definitely have gotten in the way of me steering the car a little out of danger.

  3. Hi Firstly glad you are ok. On the 30th October 2013 I was traveling on the M6 northbound J5-J6 when my car was hit by a truck. He was changing lanes from lane two into my lane one. He never seen my car in front of him,he clipped the back of the car sending it sideways in front of his truck, he just carried on driving oblivious of me being pushed up the motorway in front of him. As the back of the car was being dragged along the temporary barriers, put there for the road works. My life was flashing in front of me, thinking this is where I’m going to die, not see my wife and children again.
    At the end of the first barrier the car hit the cones,looking side ways out of the car I could see the next barrier coming up, this is it I’m going to die now, the back of the car just scraped the barrier, why isn’t he stopping,my tyres on the passenger side burst then the truck started to brake.
    When the truck stopped and the driver came round to the front, the shock on his face at seeing me sitting in my car I will never forget. I was unhurt and helped from the car by the truck driver and a driver that was going southbound that had jumped the central barriers to help.I look at life so very different, it can all be over in a flash. Kind regards Jerry

  4. WTF, Alan! WTF!

    I had a similar experience about 4 years ago. Although it didn’t involve anyone hitting my car – gear box issues. I was in the fast lane, revs went down to zero and I the accelerator didn’t work. All I remember is putting on the hazard lights and then parking the car on the hard shoulder. The rest is a blur.

    I’m sure you remember the blur part now.


    The different perspectives of the accident are very telling. Were they going at slow speed in order to have witnessed the detail?

    • I know, I know. I was like, OMG! OMG! OMG!

      Sorry, your WTFs made me laugh. Only because there was two of them.

      Yeah, it was pretty bloody scary.

      Everyone concerned was travelling at around 50mph – I guess apart from for me and the truck driver, for anyone else it would have been pretty obvious what happened. Perhaps the guy who saw it differently was behind me and not the truck and was more focused on my car than the truck so didn’t see the truck pulling out – I have no idea why he saw it differently but must admit I found it interesting that he did.

  5. Ooh scary! Glad you and everyone else survived and can learn some lessons. Lucky way over here in Australia we don’t have foreign trucks so don’t have that problem, but they are still huge and often have reckless drivers.

    • Thanks Vicki,

      I want to move to Australia!!

      In Germany they do allow foreign trucks but they are not allowed to overtake on motorways. At the moment I’d take either system over ours!!

  6. Amazingly well.

    The doctors have all been surprised by his achievements. He has a ways to go in some areas but he’s home and that is great. He has no problems with memory or speech. And, his coordination is almost back to normal. Balance seems to be what he has the most difficulty with but even there he’s made great progress.

    Thanks for asking.

  7. Amazing what it takes to get our attention sometimes, huh Alan.

    Along a somewhat different line, on October 12 my hubby had a heart attack, next day in the hospital he had a stroke. The following day he was fitted with a shiny bit of equipment known as a pacemaker. The day after that he was transported to a rehabilitation hospital where he spent a week and a half.

    The heart attack took place moments after he’d gotten out of bed (at 12:30 AM) in order to take a dose of Tylenol to relieve his headache.

    Not unlike yourself I see this as “a useful reminder for me to keep things in perspective.”

    • It was very scary. The other incident you’re thinking about was over in a flash and I didn’t have time to think about it, or change it in any way. This one was different because it lasted a few moments – long enough for me to have to think and act as well.

      Life changing – yeah, I’m going to give up my job, move to the countryside and spend more time with my family… er, wait a minute…

      but as I said, a valuable reminder of how fragile life really is!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *