Home » Breaking News » Anatomy of a Crash
The remains of the Nissan Qashqai in a front garden.
The remains of the Nissan Qashqai in a front garden.

Anatomy of a Crash

The death toll on our roads continues to climb with seemingly no end in sight. The statistics make grim reading.

I recently got a phone call from my brother Anthony, telling me of his own car crash. Happily, there was a positive outcome with very minor injuries and Anthony will not form part of this year’s statistics.

Here is the story in his own words…

Have you ever been in a large washing machine during the spin cycle? I came close on Tuesday morning, when my car came off the road at high speed, and rolled over at least twice. I was lucky to walk away from the single vehicle crash with a bruised thumb, a stiff neck and a small cut to my scalp. But for a few agonising seconds I thought I was going to come face to face with a maker I don’t believe in.

I am telling this story to let people know what it feels like, and just how serious a minor lapse in concentration can be. If you understand the consequences you just might take a little more care on the road. Some things I did almost cost me my life. And other things ensured I walked away in one piece.

The accident happened on a straight country road outside Ballydesmond, on the Cork-Kerry border, a little before 9am. The exact spot was just after Knocknaboul Cross, heading towards the Kingdom. I was driving to a school where I was due to deliver a workshop on polar exploration.

Driving conditions were not ideal. After several dry, sunny days the rain had returned, and the road was wet. But it was also straight, wide and empty. So I may have been a little heavy on the pedal. I wasn’t running late, and there is no question of me being reckless. But some of us do need to learn to slow down.

The first mistake happened when I chose to use the straight stretch to glance down at the sat nav, as I knew I was approaching a turn. As I took my eyes off the road the car veered slightly to the left, and I was suddenly snapped back to reality when the front wheel snagged the ditch.

My first thought, as I brought my eyes back to the road and turned the wheel, was that I might have blown a tire, and would be late to the school. I took my foot off the gas and hit the brake. Nothing happened. The car careened across the road with undiminished speed. I was aquaplaning on the wet surface. Panic set in, and I wrenched the wheel left. For a moment the car didn’t respond, and I thought I was going to go into the ditch on the opposite side. But then the car spun and began recrossing the road. I tried to turn again, to bring the vehicle in alignment with the road.

That’s when panic turned to pure fear. The car was not responding to anything I did, and I was now a passenger, holding on for dear life and bracing myself for what seemed inevitable. If the car didn’t turn I was heading towards an almighty bang.

Then I saw what I was about to hit. A big road sign, two metal poles fixing it to the ditch, filled my windscreen. I spun the wheel, knowing it was going to make no difference. I was right.

The windscreen cracked and buckled as I tore through the sign, then I was thrown to the side, against the door, as the car rose up the ditch. I travelled along the ditch for a few metres, then crashed over the top of a farmer’s metal gate. I was airborne. Time seemed to slow down and I remember the next few seconds with crystal clarity. It was like I was moving through treacle, with plenty of time to process what I was going through.

The first image to pop into my mind was of my son and daughter, both young adults now. I felt deep sadness, knowing I might not see them again. I would not see them grow up, would miss their landmarks, and would in my final seconds know the pain my death was going to cause them. The sadness turned to anger, and I thought: what a stupid way to die.

Then the car hit the field and I was thrown forward. At this point the airbag exploded out of the steering wheel. I say exploded, but all this went on in weird silence. I heard nothing of the crash, the landing, the explosion. I saw it all but remember no noise. I don’t know if I hit the airbag, or if the seat belt held me firm. But everything changed when the two bags were deployed.

The remains of the Nissan Qashqai in a front garden.
The remains of the Nissan Qashqai in a front garden.

The anger and the sadness disappeared, and I felt in my bones I was going to survive the next few seconds. Logic took over. Surely the road sign, ditch and gate had slowed me enough? But I still expected a jarring bang, and I braced myself, my knuckles white on the steering wheel and my shoulders contracted. I didn’t want to be thrown around like a rag doll. Or like the contents of my back seat, which were flying through the interior of the car around me.

I remember thinking that I would miss the next month of work, as doctors put me back together. But I consoled myself that broken bones mend.

As the car hit the field I flew up into the air, and then I was looking up at grass, as the car rolled onto the roof. Then the spin continued and I was upright again. Then the second roll began.

Here is a good time for an important safety tip. Once I was in a car at a Road Safety Authority event. The car was on a frame which allowed you to experience a full roll. The RSA instructed us to strap on our safety belt, then pull up the cross-chest strap strongly, to pull yourself into the seat. Since then I have always done that as I strapped myself in. So I felt secure. The car continued to roll, and I tucked my head into my chest and hung on. Finally with a shudder the car came to a rest, both front wheels deeply embedded in a woman’s garden. There was a huge rip in the hedge between the garden and the neighbouring field.

There was a strong burning smell. I know the first aid advice – don’t move in case of spinal injuries. But panic overrules sense. I smelt smoke and I dove out the driver’s door, which had popped open. I ran a few steps, then ran back and took out the key. I was not going to survive the crash, then be engulfed in an explosion.

I need not have worried. The burning smell was from the small explosive charge that had inflated the air bags. There was no fear of the car catching fire.

I surveyed the carnage. The garden was full of bits of my bodywork, and items of clothing and bits of my baggage were spread in a long trail back towards the road. And my Nissan Qashqai was now a Nissan Concertina. Without even consulting a mechanic or insurance assessor I knew it was a write off. And I was not going to get to my school that day. I found my phone somewhere in the depths of the car and phoned the emergency services.

Two hours later the Gardai had arranged a crane and truck to pick up the wreckage. My kids had arrived and my son was driving us back to the security of home. I was seeing them again, despite my worst fears at the start of the crash. And my injuries were a stiff neck, a bruised thumb, and a cut on my scalp, nothing more. I felt a very shaken top of the world.

The lesson to take away, at least for me, is to not let complacency slip into my driving. I had not been involved in a bad accident in over three decades, and the last one had not been my fault. This time, I had lost concentration for a moment to look at the sat nav, and I misread the road. But how often do we see people watching tiktok, texting, or applying their make-up with one hand on the wheel and no eye on the road? We need to limit distractions when we drive.

And I was glad I had pulled my seat belt tight when I had stepped into the car. That, and the airbags, had made a bad day bearable. It was pure chance that let me walk away, while others in similar situations end up as statistics on the end of year death toll.

I have survived the spin cycle, and I will try to make sure I never put myself in that machine again.

Anthony Galvin

For more motoring articles see: www.cartourismo.ie.

About John Galvin

Motoring editor - The Clare Champion Former Chairman and voting member of Irish Motoring Writers' Association

Check Also

Clare turn the SOD on Wexford to tee up Semi-Final against Cats

All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Quarter-Final Clare 2-28 Wexford 1-19 Croke Park awaits Clare for the …