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The Comfort Blanket That Is Mobile: When A Citroen Van Smacked Into My Range Rover On The M40 Motorway

I was rushing into London the other day for one of the Windows Phone launch events. Normally I’d take the train but the car made a lot more sense given I had my camera equipment with me.

I should explain that I drive a Range Rover. With the exception of a summer zooming around the London Docklands in my brother’s Ford Ka, I have always driven a Range Rover. I like the driving position, I like the road presence, I like the comfort. Although I’m a careful driver (they don’t call me safety dad for nothing) I am well aware of the legions of idiots who populate Britain’s roads.

Generally speaking, most people recognise the bulk of the Range Rover long before you need them to. Most people adjust their driving plans accordingly. For example, the Range Rover is one of the only vehicles on the road beyond large lorries and vans that London’s taxi drivers voluntarily give way to. It’s rare to be cut up by an arse in a fast car too. They won’t want to be damaged.


Let’s get to the crash

There was a traffic jam ahead as the M40 split to allow traffic on to the M25. I continued into London on the M40 and came to a halt behind a queue of traffic on the left lane, next to the hard shoulder.

All was good until I looked in the mirror.

I saw a smallish Citroen van approaching in the distance.

I could only see part of the shoulders of the driver. The rest of his head and shoulders was hidden because he was reaching for something on the floor.

I watched as he drew nearer.

And then I thought, shit… he’s going to hit me.


I watched as his van sped into the back of my car. His van hit with an almighty bang. I did the involuntary whiplash dance. In my rear mirror, I saw the van driver instantly pop his head and shoulders back up in alarm. I don’t think he’d found the pen he had been looking for.

I estimate he hit me at about 25-30 miles per hour. He hadn’t been looking at the front of the road for some time so the large smack came as a shock to him.

He put his hands over his face. I silently cursed. I was obviously going to be late for this launch. Both of us pulled over to the hard shoulder. I got out to inspect the damage.

As I rounded the back of the Range Rover I saw the total devastation of the Van’s entire front area. It was completely crumpled. Hardly any radiator left. At least a foot or so had crumpled away. The number-plate was hanging on by a single screw, the engine was exposed and some parts of it were also hanging off, or pushed back, damaged.

I turned to my Range Rover.

And I had to stifle a laugh. There was a small nick on the bumper’s paintwork. This is why I drive a Range Rover. If I’d been in any other car, I’d have been seriously shaken and the damage would have been particularly acute. (By the way, loads of people have been saying that’s not a van in the picture above… I know! I didn’t want to publish the actual pictures of the crash so I found that one online!)

The Mobile Comfort Blanket

The chap apologised immediately. He explained it wasn’t his van — he was working for the guy who owned it. He wrote his contact details on a piece of paper. I gave him a business card. But whilst he was writing down his details, I walked back to the car and got my phone. Now, I typically carry the following devices:

  • BlackBerry Torch/Bold
  • iPhone 4
  • iPad
  • BlackBerry Curve

Which one did I reach for in this situation?

Well, the first thing I thought I should do was to record the scene.

I reached for the iPhone. I wanted the immediate click-click of the camera and the HD video just in case I needed evidence for the insurance. I automatically processed the fact that any photos would automatically be marked with the GPS coordinates. So I began snapping a load. His van, my bumper, the road position, the chap himself, the car’s profile and so on .

Then I reached for the BlackBerry. I called my wife, explained what had happened and assured her that I was ok. (I should point out I was stationery on the hard shoulder and the engine was off.)

And then, on the side of the M40 as I prepared to drive off — I wondered if there was an app for that. My insurer is Direct Line. I tapped open the App Store on the iPhone and searched for ‘Direct Line’, silently praying for decent mobile data connectivity. If ever I needed a boost or priority button, it was then. My iPhone is powered by 3 — whose network is amongst the best I’ve experienced. A few results appeared within a second or so. I saw the Direct Line one and my heart jumped (iTunes link, free). In the midst of the confusion, stress, worry and excitement of experiencing a car crash, I am surprised by just how dependent I became on my phone. Or phones.

The Direct Line app downloaded in 4 seconds.

I remember silently thanking Steve Jobs for the flawless point-and-click delivery architecture of the iPhone platform. Thank you Steve. Again, I was surprised by how reassured I felt seeing the Direct Line logo appear on my phone. I tapped it.

Immediately I was presented with the option to fill in my policy number and contact information. This is the sort of thing I should have done ages ago. I didn’t bother with that. I wanted to see the other options.

Delight and confidence filled my heart as I read down the options:

  • Live traffic update (nice, but not relevant to me)
  • Journey Planner (cool, again not relevant at the moment)
  • Pinpoint My Location — find out precisely I am to help the emergency services. Great idea.
  • A Torch Screen facility — in case I found myself in the dark
  • Insurance Quote facility (not relevant in this case)
  • Claims Incident Guide — a step-by-step guide to documenting an accident, your location, the participants, the photographic evidence — and the ability to submit the claim wirelessly to Direct Line. Love it. Absolutely phenomenal.

I stepped through the incident guide screen filling out the details and attaching the photos. The guide was hugely comprehensive but split into simple, easy steps that you could come back to. For instance, it prompted me to fill in details of any witnesses, information about any injuries, the contact details of the other party(ies) and so on.

Luckily I didn’t need to make an insurance claim on account of the other chap accepting responsibility comprehensively.

Indeed, that same day I got a phone call from his insurance firm to step through the rigmarole. They’re coming to pick up the Range Rover to fix the scratch 😀

My Reactions

I was quite surprised by my reactions. Why did I reach for the iPhone first when my primary device is the BlackBerry? In the back of my mind, I think I calculated that it would be a few seconds quicker to easily deploy the iPhone’s camera for photos and the HD video. I also swiftly calculated (unfortunately) that there was a 99% chance that a big brand such as Direct Line has already deployed an iPhone app, but that they most definitely wouldn’t have a BlackBerry app as yet. (I had a look and couldn’t find one later on). Despite having my iPhone in my hand, I actually put it down and picked up my BlackBerry to SMS my wife. Again, that was just quicker. Much quicker than arsing around with the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. Indeed, all I need to do is type ‘c’ for compose and ‘h’ for Henrietta and I’m then ready to start typing my text. It’s that quick on the BlackBerry. Whilst this is going on I was also wondering why there wasn’t some kind of integrated ‘so, you’ve had an accident’ app that both me and the other driver could have activated.

The whole after-accident process has been a slight arse. It’s been well managed. But there’s been a lot of ‘touch’. A lot of phone calls that I have to answer. That is hugely annoying. I’ve had to fill in an accident report form for the other guy’s insurer to explain that, no, thanks to the Range Rover, I’ve got zero whiplash and that all I’d like to see is the scratch repaired. But I have to POST the PAPER form back to them. And I have to wait for a PHONE CALL from a nearby garage who will PHONE ME when they’re able to pick up the car.

PHONE PHONE PHONE. It’s all so inefficient.

Do you think that any time soon, this kind of organising will be swapped to the mobile and desktop platforms? How soon before we can get rid of paper and postage and people PHONING me. I don’t want to have to interact with folk in a synchronous manner about this kind of stuff. It’s all low level. I want to pick a day for the garage pick-up on my mobile app (or browser). I want to be able to change the appointment without having to phone up again and have to go through 5 different people. I want to be able to follow the status of the repairs from the device and be pushed updates as they’re posted by the garage and the insurance company. Surely this stuff isn’t too far away?

Surely we don’t have to wait another decade or so before this kind of workflow can be managed entirely via our mobile handset (or desktop, with a mobile browser interface)?

Tell me about your mobile & car crash experiences?

Have you used any mobile apps to report your car crash incidents? How has mobile helped you when you’ve been in a crash? Let me know.

[NB, I got the picture courtesy of Google Maps and Kent Online News]


  1. Ewan,

    Always nice to wake up in the States with such a good laugh. Your pain equated to my great enjoyment. Loved the story. Love the part about his head and shoulders missing as he was leaning down to get something, that you figure he never got… I felt your pain, as yes, I chuckled and laughed out loud. Sorry about that.

    Anyhow, yes, the day is coming I reckon where it will all be handled with the app you downloaded and the pics you forwarded. It is just going to take some time to get the paper-minded paper shovers into the 21st century. It will be a pleasure to document with your phone/app the accident, file the report, and get a report back via the app that the claim has been approved, no questions needed. I would say give it 5 years, but the way mobile is moving forward these days, it might actually be in a great deal less…

  2. Glad you’re ok safety dad! About four months ago some idiot cut over from his lane to mine hitting the rear quarter panel of my car. Everyone was Ok. I had my two daughters in with me, so at first i was a bit shaken. I pulled over, as did he, and i immediately hopped out of the car with iPhone in hand to start snapping photos from every angle, including the driver, his passenger and his license, knowing all would be data/time/gps stamped. After i digitally documented the accident, i called the police. It would have been great if i could have launched an app, the would have helped me dial and pass on my location. I dialed 911 and got through very easily, but when they asked me where i was located, i couldn’t tell them! There were not any street signs and I couldn’t launch any apps that would just tell me “where am i”, or i don’t know of any. So i had to tell them..”you know when you leave the mall, near the highway, by the office park”. This was painful and very inefficient. The police eventually figured out where to find me. After the police had left, i called my car insurance company, there was no app — too bad. But, i first looked them up using my iphone, safari and google which only took a minute. Spoke to a rep, they sent me an email, which i opened on my phone and replied with all the digital documentation and was off. All said, this was very easy to do and i couldn’t imagine trying to accomplish any of this without a smartphone!

  3. I don’t think this will happen until the CIO of a major firm realises how much money he can save not having hundreds of CS agents in large offices doing what can be done by an intelligent CS suite.It sounds like Directline are halfway there.Case in point: The idea of running a parcel service these days without having online fulfillment is crazy. If you want to return an Apple product under warranty, you don’t talk to anyone. Fill in a form online, a pre-paid returns package arrives, you schedule a pickup at your convenience, all done. If you can do that for a £1,000 laptop or £500 iPhone you can sure as hell do it for a £500 car repair.I guess the repair agents would need access to the system too, but that’s no big deal. Last time our Volvo was repaired the technician was accessing all sorts of IT wizardry to get recall, diagnostics and part info.

  4. Ah yes. March 2008, I think. I was turning into my driveway when I got hit from behind. I think I had an N95 with me. Took pictures of the scene and the guy’s license and license plate.

  5. Ah yes. March 2008, I think. I was turning into my driveway when I got hit from behind. I think I had an N95 with me. Took pictures of the scene and the guy’s license and license plate.

  6. My first reaction on reading this was, what about the millions of people without smartphones? Assuming 11m smartphone users in the UK, that’s less than a third of all drivers. It all sounds wonderfully efficient, but when all this stuff is managed via mobile devices, what will the people without access to the technology do? Will they have to get different, more expensive insurance products? The most likely reason they don’t have a smartphone is that they can’t afford it. If the alternative costs more, is that fair?

  7. It won’t be long until a large proportion of the population is upgraded to
    smartphone technology. Or until a large proportion of the population is at
    least given the choice.

    Until then, yes — telephone and paper is unfortunately the way ahead.

  8. I am glad you and the other guy are ok. The fact that your car had little visible damage and the other car was crumpled has less to do with what you are driving and more to do with the crumple zones that are built-in to all cars. That other cars front end kept you and the other guy safe. If you had hit him your front end would look similar to his

  9. Its good news that you & other people are o.k. I felt your pain. It will be a satisfaction to document with your phone/app the accident, file the report, and get a report back via the app that the claim has been approved, no questions needed..


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