So I crashed my car… and this is a retrospective of it

By | 26/09/2013

This is a post where I would like to share my experiences with the aftermath of crashing my car horribly. Hopefully nobody will ever be in the same situation, but from my point of view there are some valuable takeaways from this. The best way is probably to recount the events from what happened immediately after the car stopped tumbling and came to a standstill. You can skip that part if you want, the summary is at the end. I probably forgot a few things again already, in which case I will add them when I remember.

Ugh, what happened?!

So, here we are, 4 people in a car that had just tumbled over. Realizing that we are at a standstill, fortunately on all four wheels, my first question to everyone is: “Are you alright?”. A positive response from everyone, and we all exit the car. Not sure why this was my first reaction but instincts said that I have to get out of it – except my door is jammed. Climbing out over the passenger seat it is then. Outside. Everyone is standing around the car, I do another round, asking if everyone is OK, and while my best friends half-brother and the hitch hiker look fine then my best friend looks a little shaken. Looking at where he was sitting I see that the window is broken, and he has a little cut on each hand.

My car after turning over

“I am fine. Knocked my head and pulled my leg a little, but nothing to worry about”, he says. Two of us quickly wander off collecting the few things that fell out of the car when we tumbled, while my best friend and myself get the first aid kit out. Not realizing that it is in Icelandic I leave my best friend to find himself some plasters and go on to call the emergency services. Damn, hardly any phone reception, all I can hear from the other side is “you are breaking up …. try sending us a SMS …”. So I start writing a SMS, and even receive a notification from 112 while I was still writing: “Had a car accident. Road east of Dettifoss. Car lost grip and rolled over. Nobody injured from what it seems. But need towing.” Thanks for being such a high tech affine country, Iceland! Even though Dettifoss is nearby then I do not expect anyone to actually drive north from there, which means that waiting for a car would have been horrible” it sparks my mind. “Especially if one of us would have had serious injuries”. Another sms from 112, requesting more details. “No ambulance needed. No GPS coordinates. Road 864 between Dettifoss and Hafragillsfoss”, I reply. Less than 10 minutes have passed since we crashed, but it feels like an eternity. Going around the car to assess the damage I take another look at my best friend. He is still struggling with the First Aid Kit. As I walk up to him I remember that it was in Icelandic, and he is struggling to find plasters. All we find is disinfection wipes and the plastic stuff you glue over an open wound until you can get stitches. Damn it, I should have checked that it is absolutely in order after I bought the car, even though it was unopened. Or it is just my Icelandic failing me. But whatever, we use two of the bandages in the kit to wrap his hands. Absolute overkill, but with the extremely cold and dusty wind around us these small cuts must burn like hell if they are not covered with something. This is when I notice that I am still just running around in a t-shirt and quickly put on my thermal base layer, my down jacket and a woolen hat, and ask everyone to keep themselves warm, and if possible in the little bit of wind shadow the wreck of my car offers. Another SMS from 112. “Police is on the way from Myvatn”. Great, that is probably only going to take another 2 hours or so then. I walk up to the girl that was hitch hiking with us and apologize to her for getting her involved in an accident, but she is taking it with a lot of humour and says that “it was great fun, we should do this again”. Well, I guess that she was still in shock, despite taking a ton of pictures of the crash side. My best friend’s half brother keeps rolling cigarettes, and I ask for one. Kind of feel like that is a necessary evil after all that happened. And so the waiting begins. Since Dettifoss is only a kilometer or two away I agree that the half-brother and the hitch-hiker can go there as they never were there before. I decide to stay with my best friend who seems a little shaken, and I am still concerned that he might not be completely OK. We unload the car, and while smoking that cigarette I realize that we had not checked if the wreck is leaking gasoline or motor oil. So, cigarettes out and a quick check under the car and of the motor. Wow, that thing seems to be completely intact apart from the frame and the windows; and best of all nothing appears to leak. So, time to roll another cigarette then. And more waiting. I stroll up and down the road trying to work out how this whole mess could have happened but the road looks absolutely innocent, and there are absolutely no tracks anywhere off the road apart from the spot where we rolled over. It makes no sense! We think that I might have taken the turn a bit too hard, and yes, that appears likely, but I still cannot see where and why the car did a 270 degree turn opposed to the drifting direction. Weird. Only 30 minutes have passed since the crash. More waiting it is then. Some chit chat. We share some of the snacks and the bottle of water that we had with us in the car. Not a single car passed by in the first 90 minutes of waiting. The first three cars that pass by just do that … no slowing down, no looking at whether we are OK or not. The fourth and fifth slow down, but we signal them that we are OK, so they drive on. Eventually the police and a tow-truck arrive, and things go their way, we end up in Husavik at the hospital to get my friend checked up, rent a car, I drive us to Myvatn where our luggage ended up, we stay there for the night (it was past 22:00 at that point) and eventually drive back to Reykjavik the next day.

Cool story bro, but what are the lessons from this?

I keep this short and simple. Good things first:

  • The response right after the accident was almost correct. Even though it helped a lot that none of us got severely hurt, and that we had food and warm clothing with us since we were on a camping/road trip anyway, then things could have been handled a lot worse. Experience with outdoor activities and reading up on how to behave in these moments was very helpful.
  • We were very aware of our location, aiding the emergency response in finding us as fast as possible.

Now the things to keep in mind for next time:

  • When traveling across remote areas, always have warm, weather proof clothing and at least a bottle of water with you in the car. Depending upon where you are then it takes a lot of time until rescue services can reach you.
  • Familiarize yourself with your first aid kit, so that you can quickly and correctly use it should the need arise. Still not sure if I could provide sufficient first aid, though, the training has been a while ago, I should take another training in it.
  • Leave a travel plan with people! This takes a lot of fun out of a spontaneous adventure, granted, but it can be vital if none of you can call for help.
  • Have a way to signal for help from distance! We hardly had mobile phone reception (yes there is coverage but it is bad), and had we gone off the road in an even more remote place than we did then it would have been a lot more difficult to contact people. I talk about at least 2-3 hours of walking. This may not have to be a signal flare (though it might be handy in winter when you likely should not be driving these roads anyway), but at least have a whistle and a proper light source.
  • DO NOT SPLIT THE GROUP! NEVER EVER! While everyone looked OK then we all were basically still under shock. What if something would have happened to the hitch-hiker and my best friend’s half brother while they were out of our sight and not yet at Dettifoss? It is probably more frustrating if everyone has to wait, but it is also a lot safer. The psychological extra stress when people do not return after a short while is not helping you in an emergency situation.
  • Lastly: Get “kasko” insurance. I only had liability insurance (because hey, I know how to drive, right?), and trust me, apart from losing the value from the car, then the bills for stuff afterwards (towing, rental car, hotel, etc) are a lot of money. And I mean A LOT.

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