They most definitely are applicable in real situations. In our club, we call it investing in your old day. With that, we mean that even if you don't do martial arts, practicing proper falling technique will limit injuries when you're old.
Also outside of martial arts, falling techniques are often practiced by cyclists and the likes, to avoid exactly the sort of situation you had. One article on it can be found here: http://www.corfman.com/russell/cycling/crashtechnique.html
I'm sure everyone here knows stories of buddies, trainers, and so on, who fell from somewhere and saved their skin with falling techniques. Personally, I've heard stories of falling down a ladder and getting out of it unscathed due to them.
If you want a visual example of when backward falling technique would be useful, the comedian Conan o'Brien once slipped and fell, hitting his head and ending with a concussion. When slipping, you could really tell what he did wrong, and how he could have prevented concussion with proper falling techniques: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Q_NOYOgf7k
In the end, it's about getting the proper reflexes. As such, they work in any situation, and for the rest of your life. They're invaluable, so take practicing them seriously!