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.
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.
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.
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
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.