When your phone gets run over by a bus, here’s how to get data out of it (a sad but true story)

Ever wonder what your smartphone would look like if it got run over by a bus? Well, you don’t have to wonder any more. I found out for you.

It looks like this.

Almost pretty in its ugliness
Almost pretty in its ugliness

I’m going to tell you exactly how it came to pass that I metaphorically, and almost literally, threw my phone under a bus. But first let me promise this story has a payout: there is a pretty easy way to recover data from a phone that’s been run over by a bus. In fact, it works on a phone with a screen so damaged that you can no longer enter the unlock code. So this is really a “tips” story, not merely a dear diary story. Looking for the tips? Scroll down.

OK, here goes.

I was riding my bike wearing brand new workout clothes, and turned to avoid a man using a leaf-blower near the curb. When I did, my phone slid out of my squeaky-clean-and-new sweatpants pockets and slid a few feet to my left. It came to rest on the six-lane avenue face down, a foot or two inside the right-hand lane, clear of traffic because of the occasional parked car. I felt the phone fly away from me, knew my error right away and applied the brakes, stopping perhaps 30 feet away from my phone. I dismounted and approached the phone. At the same time, Mr. Leaf Blower also noticed it, and was nice enough to stop what he was doing and walk towards my phone, too.

Just then, a bus came barreling down the six-lane street, in the land adjacent to where my phone had stopped.

I had a fleeting thought that I could dart in and grab my phone before the bus arrived, but fortunately my brain told me otherwise. I would never have made it. And fortunately, Mr. Leaf Blower exercised the same judgment. So we watched as the bus approached, seemingly in slow motion. Let me back up and say that I had a pretty hardy two-part impact resistant case on my phone (I know myself) and it had survived much harder falls. So I was optimistic that it would be fine. Unless….

There was plenty of room for Mr. Bus Driver to avoid my phone. I think he saw me and Mr. Leaf Blower. But you know how this story ends. As the bus approached, I could see its wheels over the dashed line. I knew it would be a close one.



Direct hit, both front and back wheels. My optimism turned quickly to pessimism.

But as my fellow witness and I approached the victim, something miraculous seemed to have occurred. I expected to see a flat pancake of technology. Instead, my phone seemed to be fully in fact. Pessimism back to optimism?

Until I turned her over. That’s when I saw this:

Ugh. Bad day.
Ugh. Bad day.

I’d seen smashed phone screens before. We’ve all had to go to a phone repair brooklyn shop before. But this one was spectacularly smashed. It was so smashed that running my finger over the screen left a fine residue of little pieces of glass on my fingertip. My phone was now star-stuff. I knew you could get wholesale iphone parts to fix new iphones yourself, but I wasn’t sure if this was possible for a HTC. It was then the anger hit.

I nodded at Mr. Leaf Blower, covered the victim in a blanket (ok, I didn’t do that) and then moved my bike, myself, and my phone far out of harm’s way. I then threw the temper tantrum of a man who knows 1 second’s indiscretion has just cost him about hours and hours of hassle.

When I recovered, I began plotting my options. Switch providers? Go off the grid? Buy a new phone? I’d seen an article on Mobile Mob about the new iPhone which was tempting. But could that survive being run over by a bus?! It took an hour or more for me to do the obvious thing — check to see if the phone worked.


I haltingly pulled out the gadget and pressed the on/off button. And, much to my incredible delight….it worked. In fact, if I was in a dark place, I could even make out roughly the content on the screen. I learned later I could ever answer phone calls.

There's a heartbeat!
There’s a heartbeat!

Props to HTC for making a phone that can withstand getting run over by a bus…and to Incipio, for making a case that enabled this feat. More optimism!

But now, pessimism again. I could not get data off the phone. My screen was so badly damaged that it did not accept my PIN code. Somehow (can’t IMAGINE why) the wrong numbers were registered when I used the touch screen. I tried pressing different parts of the screen where my numbers should be, but they were rejected, too. Worse yet, thanks to those pesky security measures, I knew I had failed the PIN test 5 or 6 times, and I was rapidly approaching the time when all my data would be wiped because of consecutive wrong attempts. Fortunately, I was able to make out my phone’s warning that my data would soon be deleted.

Wow, was this day frustrating. But I fixed (almost) everything for about $5.

First, let me give credit where credit is due. I do pay for insurance through Verizon, even though I am very skeptical of most insurance and extended warranty arrangements. Why? They are only as good as the claims process. Many times, electronics claims are difficult if not impossible to complete, making the insurance a bad value. But in this case, Verzon’s Asurion product worked great for me. I had a replacement phone within 24 hours. It was refurbished, but in better shape that my old phone, so that’s fair. It cost me a $99 deductible, shipping included…which is real money, but again, I think a fair price. Far better than staring at full retail price of $700 or so I was facing.


OK, back to the solution. I was able to use an old-fashioned computer mouse to enter my PIN and unlock my phone.

How? I just needed to buy a $5 part from an online electronics store called a USB-OTG (“on the go”) adapter. (Click to buy from Amazon) These adapters enable a standard USB mouse to be plugged into the mini-USB port on an Android phone.

When I hooked up the contraption, much to my surprise, a large mouse pointer appeared immediately on my phone screen. It allowing me to click in the correct regions of my screen to enter my unlock code.

A USB mouse connected to the phone via a USB-OTG connector let me enter my PIN and get past lock screen.
A USB mouse connected to the phone via a USB-OTG connector let me enter my PIN and get past lock screen.

My phone was still losing LCD glass with every touch, so I had to be efficient. But I was able to get a last few recent photos off my phone, and make sure my contacts were transferred properly.

Note: Most of my photos and contacts were backed up already, because I back up everything. I don’t use automated backups because I take too many photos and videos. Plus, of course, I was glad to get the chance to make sure nothing critical was missing from my backup.

What’s the moral of this lesson? There are several. A) Yes, I should put my cell phone in my backpack when cycling, when possible. B) Yes, backups are important. C) Yes, No gadget is worth risking your life.

But most of all: D) Don’t despair! The Internet has a $5 solution for (almost) everything.

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About Bob Sullivan 1582 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

1 Comment

  1. Wow! You’re lucky that the phone was still working enough to bypass the non-working touchscreen. Nice workaround. For phones that don’t even have a display – don’t give up hope! Recovery can still be possible if the logicboard is intact.

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