Staying away from the tragic consequences of rollovers means buckling up, loading vehicles correctly and being a calm, attentive driver.
NHTSA advises drivers to be particularly cautious on curved, rural roads and maintain a safe speed to avoid running off the road.
"Keep the shiny side up."
This sage advice given to race car drivers is especially apt for the increasing number of everyday drivers piloting sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks that can have high centers of gravity. But how do you keep your vehicle from rolling over? And how do you reduce the chances of injury and death if your vehicle does roll?
Officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advise that all passengers inside a vehicle of any kind should always wear seat belts. "Seat belt use has an even greater effect on reducing the deadliness of rollover crashes than on other crashes because so many victims of rollover crashes die as a result of being partially or completely thrown from the vehicle," the safety agency says. It estimates that occupants wearing their belts are about 75 percent less likely to be killed in a rollover crash than are unbelted occupants.
Make sure heavy items inside your vehicle are secured tightly so they won't become projectiles during a rollover. This includes tools and suitcases.
Load your vehicle carefully, paying attention to distribute the load evenly to minimize handling changes in your vehicle. NHTSA says to consult your owner's manual to determine the maximum safe load for your vehicle, noting weight limits when using any type of roof rack. Be aware that any load placed on the roof will be above the vehicle's center of gravity and will increase the likelihood of rolling over.
Rollovers are more likely on rural roads and highways, so be especially alert when you travel on them. Remember that the narrower the road, the less margin for error you have.
NHTSA advises drivers to be particularly cautious on curved, rural roads and maintain a safe speed to avoid running off the road and striking a ditch or embankment and rolling over.
Be a calm driver. Don't overcorrect in a panic if one of your wheels drops off the pavement. Many rollovers stem from a driver wrenching the steering wheel abruptly in an effort to quickly get the tire back on the pavement. NHTSA notes that especially at freeway speeds, overcorrecting or excessive steering may cause the driver to lose control. "If your vehicle should go off the roadway, gradually reduce the vehicle speed and then ease the vehicle back on to the roadway when it is safe to do so," the agency says.
The agency also notes the common reasons why people lose control of their vehicles: driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving while sleepy or inattentive, driving too fast for the conditions.
Keep your tires properly inflated and replace tires when worn. Balding tires can lose traction in rain, for example, and result in a slide that can cause a rollover.