This tale reflects the actual events of an incident which occurred on Monday 24th June 2019.
Our trip from the northeast of England across to Northern Ireland was planned to include an overnight stop in Scotland before catching the car ferry the next morning—a gentle, relaxing start to a holiday. The God of Road Traffic Accidents had other ideas.
Not only is my wife a non-driver, but she is also a nervous passenger. If she falls asleep while I’m at the wheel it’s a blessing for us both, so I like to be alert because I’m not allowed to fall asleep when I’m behind the wheel.
We set off on Sunday after a light lunch and made good time to Dumfries where we stopped at a hotel overnight. A walk into town for our evening meal and then a good night’s sleep was the order of the day, and everything went smoothly.
The next morning at 08:17, after a light breakfast and a top-up for the fuel tank at the nearby filling station we set off on the main road to Cairnryan. At 08:20 our schedule went pear-shaped.
I negotiated a roundabout and when I took the appropriate exit I realised we’d be going slow for a while—up ahead was a yellow JCB mechanical digger. Behind the JCB was a van, and then two other cars and then us. The A75 at this point is a long parabolic—a blind bend to the left so nobody on our side could see what was coming the other way unless their vehicle was fitted with radar.
The van eased out, and then accelerated rapidly before pulling in ahead of the JCB. Within seconds, a car zoomed past going in the opposite direction—it must have had a close call with the van. Next in our line of impatient drivers was somebody with a small silver hatchback. The hatchback moved up behind the JCB at about 30 mph, eased out, pulled in, narrowly missed by an oncoming vehicle, and then the hatchback pulled out and accelerated. The small silver car was within a coat of paint of the next vehicle which came our way.
“That was too close for comfort,” I said to my terrified wife.
We were travelling at about 30 mph, and between the JCB and our car was one more vehicle. I had already decided I’d wait for a good view before attempting to overtake the slow-moving digger. The driver of the next vehicle in our line of suicide jockeys was not in such a generous mood—driving his red Audi A4 a few metres from the rear of the JCB.
I dropped back to about fifty metres to give more room between our car and the Audi. “He’s got power under that bonnet, and he’ll have a go,” I said to the wife. “That car is a monster—”
As I made my observation, the Audi moved to the near side where the driver wouldn’t see much. Un-phased, the Audi driver moved out to overtake without hesitation and I saw the back end of the car drop as it accelerated to pass the big yellow digger. I saw the back end drop for about two seconds.
The next few events occurred in rapid succession.
At about the time I’d used the phrase, ‘That car is a monster—’ an explosion occurred and a silver-grey hatchback appeared in front of us, flying through the air before it somersaulted three times and disappeared from view into a deep ditch on the far side of the road.
The red Audi A4 spun three times as it came back towards the line of vehicles, of which, I was at the front.
I slammed my right foot on the brake pedal and activated my hazard flashers—mainly to prevent a concertina effect from behind me. My rapid early warning was also self-interest—I didn’t want to die because of somebody else’s carelessness, and I had a ferry to catch.
With a screech of tyres, the car immediately behind ours stopped within a metre of our tail-end, and each car in the line stopped without collision. I confirmed this later.
I checked my wife was okay following her deafening scream at seeing such an incident, and then I got out to check the driver of the red Audi which had come to rest, side-on, one car length from where I’d stopped. I say ‘the red Audi’, but I mean, of course, the main body of the car. From the dashboard forward, the only equipment remaining were the offside wheel, the main engine block and the suspension. The rest of the front end, like the bumper, bonnet, headlights, and an assortment of small engine parts had erupted and rained down over an area of about one hundred metres.
I shouted at the stunned young man in the car behind mine. “Have you got a mobile?”
He nodded, and remained in his seat, staring back at me.
“Call for an ambulance—tell them where you are, and say we have a head-on collision at speed, with at least two casualties.”
He nodded again and gave me a thumbs-up.
I ran to the Audi and seeing only the white material of the multiple airbags pressing against every glass surface I peered into the driver’s side—nobody there. I tried the door but the central-locking had operated. I ran around the other side to try the passenger doors to find a similar situation but found a man in his fifties standing watching me.
“I’m over here,” the man said.
“Are you the driver?”
“Yes, I’m okay.”
“No—it was just me—I got out of the passenger’s door.”
“Stay there on the grass.” I ran across to the grass verge on the other side of the road where the JCB driver and another man were descending into the ditch. The silver-grey vehicle which had been travelling innocently towards us on the correct side of the road was in the deep ditch, facing back where it had come from, but resting on its passenger side.
I slid down into the ditch, joined by the other two men and we discovered the driver was hanging upside down and caught around the neck by his seatbelt. Both of his legs were bent and caught around the gearstick and centre console area of the car.
“Hello,” I called. “Can you hear me?”
An unintelligible moan was the response, but it meant he was alive. The blood over his head, nose and face I hoped to find was the source of the blood over the rest of him.
“Don’t worry mate,” I said. “We’ll get you free, and we’ve got an ambulance on the way.”
“Seatbelt … seatbelt.” He sounded frightened and with good reason. He was being strangled by the elasticated material, but addressed by people through his driver’s door, which was uppermost—secured by the central locking system.
We were joined by a man wearing overalls and a hi-vis vest carrying a metal wheel-brace. “Is this any good?”
“Yes,” the JCB driver said. “We can jemmy the driver’s door open.” As good as his word, the big guy grabbed the metal bar, reached forward, and eased the metal bar into the top of the damaged door. He prised it open a few inches and I reached in to get some slack on the seatbelt—it wasn’t happening.
“Have any of you guys got a blade?” I asked.
“I’ve got big scissors in the van, the hi-vis vest man said and headed up the embankment.
JCB man meanwhile pushed the metal bar into the shattered glass sunroof and tried to open it, but to no avail. Two of us tried with our hands. We all ended up with cuts.
“Scissors,” hi-vis vest man said on his return and handed the scissors to me.
“Listen to me mate,” I said to the traumatised casualty through his bent and slightly open door. “I’m going to cut the seatbelt—but you have to support your neck—can you do that for me now?”
“Yes, yes—cut it.” The casualty moved one arm behind his head and I reached in to slowly cut through the belt before lowering the loose end. The casualty’s head eased back and he groaned. At least he was breathing better.
“Hold on, mate and we’ll get you comfortable.” I turned to the JCB driver. “Keep him talking—get his name, reach in—and hold his hand.”
“Hold his hand?” The muscular digger driver said, squinting.
“Keep him talking,” I said, and whispered, “and hold his fucking hand—let him know we’re here.”
“Right mate,” JCB driver said shaking his head, but he forced his arm inside the bent door.
“Leave the sunroof for a minute,” I said to the other two helpers. “I’ll be right back with a tool to take it out.” I climbed out of the ditch and ran back to my car mentally noting the audience of about fifteen to twenty people who had a policy of, ‘if I can’t do something useful I may as well get in the way and watch from the verge …’
The luggage in my car was neatly packed as always, which was fortunate. I briefed my traumatised wife as I moved two jackets to one side and reached into the corner of the luggage compartment. “We’re trying to cut out the sunroof,” I said, “but the main thing is, the driver is the only person in the car, and he’s alive.”
I got back to the ditch and slid down to be with the other guys and the wrecked car. “How is he doing?”
“He moved his legs and slipped forward,” JCB driver said. “He’s almost upright but not quite sitting and his legs are bent right back.”
“Okay,” I said, unclipping the small toughened plastic case I’d fetched. “We’ll get that sunroof out so I can check him over and help him get comfortable.” I lifted out my special device and unfolded the metal handle and blade with its sturdy serrated edges.
“What the fuck is that?” JCB driver said nodding at my small spade.
“US Army entrenching tool, Gulf War–it was a gift.” I looked inside at the casualty who was still drowsy. “I’m gonna take out that sunroof and let you move your legs.” I looked around. “We need to cover his face and arms—has anybody got something suitable?”
“I don’t think you should move him.” The voice of a blonde thirty-something up on the grass verge.
We all paused and looked at her standing there, looking down at our rescue mission.
“You shouldn’t move him, and you’d better cover his face—”
“Who are you?” I shouted, more angry than interested.
“I’m a first aider.”
“So am I,” I shouted back, although it had been many years since I’d held a qualification. I turned to the JCB driver. “I am, and I used to teach the subject—we don’t need somebody like her up on the verge.” I shook my head and asked again. “Have we got a cover for the casualty?”
JCB man handed over his hi-vis vest. “Is this any good, mate?”
“Yes, but hold on.” I dropped my entrenching tool onto the grass and pulled off my ironed T-shirt. I handed the shirt to JCB man. “Tell him what you’re doing and lie this over his face. Cover his arms with the vest.”
Less than a minute later I was hacking at the sunroof as if it was a Californian Redwood. The edge of the blade sliced through inches of glass at a stroke and I was halfway down the sunroof in two minutes.
“Jesus Christ,” JCB man said, his eyes wide. “Okay, mate, stand back.” He moved forward and with a heavy industrial boot, he stood on the edge of the glass panel I’d torn open. The sunroof peeled back like the lid of a sardine can.
I crawled into the car, through the roof, leant forward, and removed the protective layers. “Hey, buddy. You’re doing fine, and now I’ll have a look at you for injuries—okay?”
“You’ve got scratches on your face, but do you feel pain elsewhere?”
“My hip really hurts and my leg is numb.”
I judged his position. “Is it your right hip that hurts?”
“Yeah, and my right leg is numb.”
The right leg was bent back at an awkward angle, but more worrying was when I got in close I saw that the guy was in his thirties and carrying a lot of excess weight. He would not be moving any part of his body easily in such a situation.
“I don’t think you should move him.” The interfering blonde remote first aider again.
I turned to the JCB driver. “Ignore her.” I moved forward carefully to talk to our casualty. “Okay, before we try anything else I want to check you over for injuries so when I touch you I’ll ask if you can feel anything—okay?”
“Do you have any pain in your neck or your back?”
“No, just my hip.”
“You’re doing great, so we’ll take this really slow.” I reached around and gently pressed around the neck and shoulders with my fingertips, gaining a murmur of all being well. I moved down both arms and along the fingers, amazed that there were no upper body fractures. Due to his size, I knew the ribs might be damaged but I wouldn’t be able to tell without causing discomfort. I moved down to the hips.
“There—it hurts there.” The casualty’s breathing became rapid.
“Okay, okay—you’re fine. Hey, listen, I can hear a siren—the medics are coming.” I couldn’t hear a siren, but I knew it would be good for his confidence. “I’m gonna check that right leg in small sections and you say okay each time.” I worked from the hip around the thigh to the knee, and then around the calf to the ankle and on to the toes encased in a light training shoe. All good. “Do you want to straighten that leg?”
At this stage, I actually did hear a siren–several sirens.
“Okay, I’ll lift it very slowly and you stay still until I tell you to move.” I raised the foot inch by inch while I supported the leg under the knee. “Okay, now really slowly straighten the right leg—good man, nice and slow.” The leg moved out past me to rest on top of the unrolled sunroof. “We can’t move your other leg yet but I’ll check it over.” I did an inch by inch inspection and all was good according to the casualty. I turned when a hi-vis vest appeared beside me and right above the vest was a head protected by a green helmet—a paramedic.
“I’ll take over now, mate, thanks. What have we got?”
I moved out, away from the casualty. “Male—in his thirties, no breathing problems, facial injuries—possible broken nose. No obvious fractures otherwise, but unable to check ribs and pelvis.”
I turned to JCB man and hi-vis vest man. “Thank you, guys.”
“Glad to help,” JCB man said and handed me my entrenching tool and plastic case.
“Thanks,” I said and accepted my blood-stained T-shirt from hi-vis vest man before climbing up onto the road. I was bare to the waist, of course, but wasn’t aware that I had blood on my arms and fingers from cuts, and on my face, arms and body from the casualty’s injuries. It was only as I looked around that I realised our original small line of cars were now accompanied by many more, plus an ambulance, three police cars, two fire and rescue appliances, the fire chief, and a shitload of debris that was being mapped out by a police accident investigator.
“Excuse me, sir.”
I turned to see a blond twelve-year-old with stubble in a police uniform and hi-vis vest. He wasn’t really twelve, but it was a close call. “Yes, officer, how can I help you?”
“Were you involved in the collision?”
“No, but I did witness everything, including the events immediately prior to the incident.”
“Where is your car?”
“The red Kia over there—my wife is the distraught woman standing beside the passenger door.”
“How close were you before you reversed the car away from the Audi?”
“I haven’t moved it—that was where I stopped after the impact. I left my hazard flashers on and got out to deal with the situation.”
He took my personal details and said a colleague would take a statement. The colleague was a dark-haired sixteen-year-old whose protective vest was bulging—it contained her considerable accessories. On closer inspection, she was probably older than sixteen, but not much.
“Hello,” she said. “Are you the driver of the red Kia?”
“I am, officer. Would you like my statement?”
“Yes, please.” She appraised me from head to toe. “Are you injured?”
“I’m fine—most of the blood is from scratches and some is from the casualty.”
“Do you have another shirt or something you can wear—it’s getting chilly and starting to rain?”
“Give me two minutes, please.” I went to the back of my car and got a smile from the two young officers when I produced a bottle of water. It was my top-up supply for my windscreen washer. I proceeded to wash the blood from my hands, face, arms and body, and then I wiped myself down with my blood-stained T-shirt.
Due to going on holiday, of course, I had a large holdall with changes of clothes, so I casually selected and pulled on a fresh T-shirt. I grinned, thinking that this was the closest I’d ever get to the iconic part of Jason Statham’s ‘Transporter’ movies where he goes to the boot of the car and replaces his ruined clothes after a bit of rough and tumble.
I sat with the young policewoman in the inspector’s ‘traffic division’ car, a rather large and well-equipped BMW. As I recollected everything from leaving home the previous day right up until the accident she listened and wrote it into her notebook.
I was asked my age, how long I’d held a driving licence, if I had any endorsements, if I had particular driving skills, how rested I’d been before the incident and many other things which I’d never have considered important.
She sat with pen poised. “How fast would you say the vehicles were travelling when the collision occurred?”
“I’d say a closing speed of at least 100 mph.”
“Really? How do you work that out?”
“Immediately prior to the Audi pulling out I was travelling at about thirty, and he accelerated away from behind the JCB, so he had to be doing in excess of forty. The oncoming driver would have been unaware and within his rights to be travelling at up to sixty, so I’d estimate the contact speed as around one hundred miles per hour.”
She nodded and wrote down the information. “Who would you say was at fault–in your personal opinion?”
“The driver of the red Audi A4 was at fault, without a shadow of a doubt.”
She smiled as she checked the statement. “I’m impressed by the specific timings. Apart from knowing to within five minutes when you left home and did everything yesterday, today, you left the hotel at 08:00, refuelled your car and left the petrol station at 08:17—the collision occurred at 08:20?”
“I tend to work to a schedule, and I always allow time for unforeseen issues—like car accidents.”
She laughed. “You said you were heading to catch a ferry to Northern Ireland this morning?”
“Yes, we had hoped to get the earlier one at 11:30, but if we get away from here soon we should make the 13:30 crossing.”
The inspector returned to his car as the young woman went back over my statement before I signed it.
“Well, this is a first,” the senior officer said as he climbed into the car. “I’ve never got into the back of my own police car.”
We all laughed.
The inspector said, “Are you Mr Benson—the driver of the red Kia?”
“I’ve just been chatting to your wife while I moved your car forward—good job on stopping and what you’ve done.”
“Thank you—it needed a rapid response.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m retired, but I was a career soldier and then a retailer for twenty-odd years.”
“What do you get up to now with all the time on your hands?”
“I’m a creative writer.”
“Have you got anything published?”
“Yes, thirty-odd titles across a variety of genres.” I smiled. “This type of thing is fodder for somebody like me.”
He laughed. “I bet it is.” He responded to a radio call and opened his door. “Thanks again for what you did, Mr Benson.”
The young officer smiled and handed me her notebook. “If you’d like to have a look at your statement again and then sign it, we’ll let you get on your way.”
I read through quickly and signed the statement, and then the officer let me go to my car.
I wondered what the conversations were about as small groups of people continued chatting, but nodded in my direction as we passed. I saw JCB man and hi-vis vest man talking to police officers, and they gave me a nod, but the blonde ‘first-aider’ wasn’t about.
I got into my car and set off at 10:40, meaning that apart from risking his life and the lives of others, the impatient Audi driver had given my wife a considerable fright, cost us almost two and a half hours travelling time—and caused my wife and I to miss the earlier ferry.
I’ve always been a person to look for a positive, and this incident was no different. Yes, my wife remains a nervous passenger, but now I feel her confidence in my ability has been reinforced after trusting me behind the wheel for forty-two years. I proved able to avoid being part of a pile-up, had conversations with a number of police officers—without being arrested, had a wash and changed my T-shirt unaided at the side of the road, and got to the ferry on time.
Although one of the two drivers in the incident had been careless they had both survived.
Now, admit it, life doesn’t get much better than that.
Oh, yes, and we went on to have a great week visiting some of my wife’s relatives.