4 Dec 2015

I've Never Crashed A Car But I've Nearly Crashed Many Times

Think about the times you've lost control of your car. Did you crash into something or did you momentarily think you were going to crash into something then thank your lucky stars when you didn't?

I've either been extraordinarily lucky behind the wheel or I've got amazing reflexes. Or maybe both. I passed my test 27 years ago and not once in that time have I hit another car or any inanimate object with my car in such a way that you could call it a crash.

But I have had lots of nearly crashes.

Mind you I haven't been quite so lucky on my motorcycle. I've had lots of nearly crashes on bikes too but I did have one actual real life crash. It was terribly embarrassing. I only passed my bike test when I was 33. I'd been riding for five years and had owned an old Yamaha Fazer 600 and a new Yamaha FZ6 - both what non-bikers would call sit up and beg bikes. So I bought a Yamaha R1. 150bhp, 150kg, handlebars so low I had to pull my stomach in to ride the thing.

It was beautiful in red and white - mint condition. One soggy day when my Saab 9-3T was in the garage having a new clutch fitted I took the R1 to my son's school's autumn fayre. My dad was visiting and took son in his Jag S-Type.

After the fayre had finished I headed home. Lots of little boys and girls as well as my son and dad watched as I pulled my leather jacket on, strapped my helmet on and fired up the R1. They oohed and aahed as I turned right out of the school gate and eeeeeehed as the rear tyre found no traction and tried to overtake the front swinging the bike right, left, right, left, right. Then it did find grip, abruptly stopped it's fishtail and spewed me off and into the air whereupon I slid down the road for twenty yards with the bike's front wheel on my right leg.

I was fine, the bike was trashed. I've never crashed a bike again, thankfully.

I'd had plenty of 'nearly crashed' moments before that crash on the bike but none since, funnily enough.

In the car, though, I had one earlier today. I took my Elise out for a winter blat. The weather was fine if a little cold and I wanted to let rip for an hour or so. The roads were quiet and the top was off. I had a vague route sketched out in my mind and headed north out of the village and towards a fantastic road nearby.

Hose Hill is a half mile section of steep road that contains three hairpin bends and that is controlled by traffic lights over its entirety which means it is a one way road. I was headed downhill and as I approached saw a white, diesel Audi TT at the lights ahead of me. Knowing the TT would be driven very slowly down the hill I held back and waited a few minutes whilst the lights changed to red and then back to green.

I lit up the rear tyres away from the lights and held a perfect line through the first of the bends, which is a long, constant radius right handler. This is followed by 120 metres of straight road which leads into a first corner left hand hairpin bend - tighter than both the Gooseneck on the Isle of Man TT course or Loews hairpin at the Monaco GP circuit (I've driven both).

I pelted along the 120 metres in second gear and approached the corner. I braked in the right place - not too early or too late - but I pushed the brake pedal too hard, too quickly.

At this point it should be noted the Elise has many qualities. It has a brilliant braking system with huge amounts of feel, and it has great tyres, the discs are drilled and the pads are green EBC units. The trouble is I had failed to warm the brakes and tyres sufficiently and I had pressed the brake pedal too fast, too hard and too clumsily. Oh, and the car doesn't have ABS.

So we arrived in the corner with the front wheels locked, heading towards a vast pile of rotten leaves which had built up over the autumn.

I should know better because I know the car well and I have been trained on track by experts from Lotus, Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Polestar and a very sweary and shouty racing racing driver who's Radical SR3 I was piloting around Silverstone at the time.

Anyway, back to the corner and the locked wheels and the impending doom and the possibly very high insurance bill. As you can probably tell by the title of this article I didn't crash the car but it was a close run thing.

Luckily my reflexes acted before my mind even thought, "Oh shit I'm going to crash the car," which made my right foot momentarily come off the brake pedal and then push it again, once the wheels had unlocked, but this time with more finesse. This enabled me to slow the car sufficiently before I hit the wet leaves and a certain crash.

The day was saved by instantaneous action and and unconscious knowledge of what to do in a given situation. This is a credit to the hours of training I've had, and possibly very good reflexes.

Over the years these reflexes have saved me untold times. I remember driving back from a wedding late at night in the rain with the kids bickering on the back seat and my ex talking at me in the passenger seat. My car at the time, an old Passat 1.9TDi estate, did have ABS but it was pathetic. In slippery conditions it made the car travel further than if it hadn't had ABS.

We were hurtling downhill doing 60mph on an empty dual carriageway. I was being talked to and trying to concentrate on terrible road conditions at the same time. I noticed too late the roundabout ahead and did exactly the same as I did in the Elise. I stabbed at the brake, locked the wheels and felt the horrible grind of the ABS being pathetic. I released the pedal, engaged it again and found more grip and slowed us down just enough to make the roundabout safely.

I've driven many powerful cars on public roads as well as race tracks. One in particular gave me a horrendous moment of, "Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!"

If you're a regular reader then you'll know which car I'm talking about. It cost £95k and had 450bhp and as part of the press loan I'd have to cough up the first £5k if I damaged it.

It was my first EVER press car. I reversed it out of my drive very carefully. I drove it down the road very carefully.  I drove it very fast very carefully. Then, like an idiot, I turned the traction control off and booted the throttle.

The rear tyres instantly kicked left and tried to overtake the front. Oh shit. Amazingly, almost before my mind registered the catastrophe that could quite possibly unfold in the seconds ahead, my right foot jumped straight off the throttle, my hands corrected the slide and my right foot went back on the throttle and brought the car back into line.

Disaster averted. I didn't have to pay 5 grand to anyone. I drove the car for another four days then gave it back, relieved.

I've had plenty more of these moments. They've involved oversteering, understeering, overbearing, a couple more fishtails and driving into the central reservation when the traffic ahead has suddenly stopped. Cars are our every day transport. As such we drive when we're alert and we drive when we're tired and drowsy. I've been lucky. I've saved the car every time.

These things happen less now that I am old and experienced. I like to think I am wise but I am probably just more aware than the younger me was of the potential impact on my licence, body and finances of crashing a car.

I learn from every single moment. I was never reckless but we all drive a bit daft when we're young. Nowadays I rarely drive in such a manner that a policeman would consider the need to give me a talking to.

Fingers crossed and touch wood I have yet to crash a car. Hopefully I never will. I'll try my best to make sure I don't. Hopefully you won't either.

Below the article I've posted pics of my old R1 before I crashed it and a screenshot from Google street view of THAT hairpin.

By Matt Hubbard

The 2000 Yamaha R1 I crashed BEFORE I crashed it

THAT hairpin