21 Jan 2021

Witnessing the aftermath of a horrific crash

 I left home early to get to Yorkshire in time for the survey I was due to attend. It had snowed the night before but though the garden had looked pretty in white at 11pm it had almost all melted by 7am. At 8am I was in my car, heating on, heated seat on, windscreen cleared. 

I reversed out of my drive and drove slowly down the road which was still covered with a patchy layer of white. It's a long cul de sac which sees little traffic, and slopes downhill to the end so whenever we've had snow or ice you have to be careful not to slide inexorably towards the scene of a collision.

Safely out of the village I hit the busy dual-carriageway A-road which took me eastwards. The sky was grey and the dirty water on the road was being kicked up by HGVs and large SUVs piloted by small people. 

Unavoidably two abreast at 50mph there were a few occasions when the sheer volume of spray caused by the intersection of juggernauts and Audi Q8s temporarily reduced visibility to nought. You hold your breath, slow a little - but not so much that the car behind panic brakes and causes a concertina crash - and cover the brakes. 

The journey continued in this vein until I reached the motorway. The M56 east and then the M60 heading past Stockport and eventually north around Manchester and towards the M62.

The skies were clear but the spray continued to impede vision. I would avoid the SUVs and HGVs wherever possible. Some people drive right in their wake, seeing nothing but giant tyres and a dirty cloud of spray. I hold back, wait for my chance to pass. Visibility is key in these circumstances. You need to understand what other drivers are doing, what you think they are going to do, where they are going, whether they are on their phone, in a temper, in a dream.

One large woman in a red Fiat 500 with wheel trims sat on my bumper for a mile. I could not move over due to traffic, would not speed up due to spray and could do nothing but keep my eye on her and anticipate what she might do and what I could do if a hazard ahead caused an emergency brake. Eventually I moved left and she passed, her eyes looking down at something on the dash instead of the road, to do the same to the next driver.

We were all happily moving along at pace when I saw a disturbance ahead and to my left. I was in lane four and something was going on. I could detect it in the micro-movements of vehicles around me

I slowed a little to avoid debris in the road, a piece of black plastic. Then an articulated lorry moved across from lane two and went to stop, blocking lanes one and two. Everybody was slowing. My mind was in emergency mode. Time slowed.

I saw a car, a white or silver Honda I think. Only its passenger side still existed. It had hit been hit at an almighty speed by something unstoppable. It was stationary and facing towards me on the hard shoulder. The HGV that had swerved had been blocking the road to stop traffic from getting close. This was deadly serious. Whoever had been in the Honda must be dead. I knew it.

Maybe five cars were stopped by now. People were racing to the remains of the Honda. There were enough on scene. Me stopping wouldn't help anyone. I carried on.

I couldn't get the thought of the Honda out of my mind. I thought about all the people impacted by losing a loved one. I thought about a pet dog waiting for its mum or dad to come home. I thought about children who did not yet know a parent had been killed.

I forgot the name of everyone I was at the survey with. I kept having to look at my notes. My brain was numb. I've never seen anything like that before.

I drove home in the afternoon in even worse conditions. The stupidity and arrogance of dozens of drivers in sleet and freezing rain amazed me. I beeped my horn at several who just drifted across lanes because they were on the phone.

And all day I thought of that Honda. 

I got home and checked the North West Motorway Police twitter account. They mentioned it briefly. People who had seen the crash were distraught. One lady and I who had seen it comforted each other. Another lady said her son was in the car and she was worried how he would be at school after having seen it. One man wrote "Went past just after it happened. Loads of public literally ripping the roof off the car. Hope everyone is OK."

Literally ripping the roof off the car.

As with everything I will eventually forget what I saw, but the family of the victim(s) won't. And neither will their pets.

By Matt Hubbard