Usability & Car Accidents: Thoughts After a Fender Bender

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And now for a break from our scheduled programming about video games, about something completely different: car accidents. Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, my boyfriend and I got into a car accident halfway through our 8 hour drive from Western New York. It was a minor fender bender, where our front bumper swung open like a door and our left headlight got smashed, and their car got a small dent. No one was hurt, and the other car drove away from the accident fine. We coincidentally had the accident right in front of an auto body shop, and the super-nice mechanics shuffled around their full garage to accommodate us, inspected the damage, and implemented some quick-fixes (zip-tying our bumper back on and replacing our headlight and turn signal). We then drove four more hours home in a very unhappy car.

The aftermath on our car. Not too bad.

This post is about part of the experience post-accident. Having never been in an accident before, I wasn't entirely sure what to do, besides call the state police and exchange insurance information with the other driver (although they left before I could get a cell phone number). So I did what any Millennial would do and Google "what to do after a car accident." One of the first things that comes up is call one's car insurance company. 

So I call the 'claims' number on our insurance card (somehow we hadn't received one for 2016, so this one was from 2015)... and I get a message roughly saying "hey answer this survey to enter a drawing to win a free cruise to the Bahamas!" There was no way to skip the survey from the phone options, so I took the survey. The chipper automatic voice then told me I had won, and should press 1 to accept the trip to the Bahamas. Uninterested, confused, and still shaken from the crash, I pressed 2 thinking that would be the 'no, actually bring me to the claims service.' The phone then hung up. I double checked the number on the card, so either the card's number was outdated or printed wrong, or there's actually a survey at the beginning of the insurance company's claim line. If it is actually the case that a survey precedes the claims process on this insurance company's claim line, that is horrendous usability. 

Since the claims number evidently wasn't working, or had bad usability or whatever, I called the customer service line instead. Then I had to patiently wait to listen to all the options, figure out which ones to select, and then wait for someone to answer.

I'm curious whether car insurance companies have done testing to figure out "hmm, which questions do our customers have right after getting into a car accident?" It's entirely possible that they've done such testing for their website or mobile apps - but I'm not going to download a mobile app over 4G just to see if they have a FAQ to see "what to do and what information to get after an accident." At that point, my boyfriend and I were still pretty shaken up. 

And it makes me wonder how much testing has gone into automated phone systems, where you can either state your answer or use the key pad to select a choice. How do the companies come up with the list of options? I just wish there was a line on my insurance card that said "this is the line to call directly after calling the state police/an accident." When I'm upset, I have less cognitive processing power to figure out what "claims" means and what information I will be expected to provide.

Working in the finance industry, the most I've come into contact with designing for human sadness is determining how to delicately design for customers who have recently lost a loved one, and now must transfer assets. Grief is an entirely different emotion than shock, and I'm curious how designers account for creating systems and designs that are easy enough to understand and process even when a user is overwhelmed.

I'm sure there's been lots of design of emergency pamphlets (like in airplanes) and instructions for medical equipment (talking defibrillators) - but what about for situations that are further away from the institutions (in one's personal car - there's no safety officials around to guide you)?

/sigh

Anyways, I think that's the end of my rant for now. I'll resume my regularly scheduled programming next month with more video game usability reviews. If you know any games I should review, please let me know!

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