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Rollovers: What To Do Before, During, and After

Posted in Features on August 8, 2018
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Roll, flop, dirt nap—whatever your favorite term for a Jeep ending up not on its wheels, rolling over is one of the biggest fears people have about four-wheeling. We can talk all day about good driving techniques to avoid rolling in the first place, but no matter how good you are, mistakes happen. It’s good to be prepared. Protecting the occupants is the number-one priority. Here are things you can do to help everyone walk away safely from a rollover.

Most people hope to never roll over, but look at this and think about what is going to fly out, break off, and how you are going to climb out of it. This looks nasty, but everyone walked away without a bruise in sight. And with the vehicle resting on three points (hood, windshield, and C-pillar) it was fairly secure, in spite of its precarious appearance.

Before

As with most things, a little preparation goes a long way. Regularly check the security of your battery tie-down. Keep spare tires, Hi-Lift jack carriers, off-road lights, and other external accessories tightly attached. Every time you get inside the Jeep, examine the contents of the passenger compartment, no matter what level of trail or highway you will be driving. What is inside that can become a flying projectile? Certainly, any tools or heavy objects should be secured, not just tossed under the seat. Water bottles, tablets, and radios should be given a critical eye. There are countless stories of tragedy where the actual impact of the rollover didn’t injure anyone, but rather the things that flew around inside the passenger compartment did. And it should go without saying that everyone must wear seatbelts. Always.

If you have to roll a rig, make it a Toyota! The sole purpose in life for Candy, my 1990 Toyota 4Runner, is to perform rollovers and flops for the purpose of demonstrations for preparation and recovery training. She is equipped with an exo-cage, five-point harness, battery cutoff, and heavy-duty tie-down, and receives full inspections for leaks, crimped wires, and sharp edges after every “job.”

During

Get small. It is an unfortunately common thing to see people stick their arms or legs out to try to “stop” the Jeep from rolling over. Don’t. Even if you are extraordinarily strong and could accomplish this, is it worth risking injury? The best thing to do is compact yourself downward and toward the center of the vehicle. You also want to try to hold on to something not near the exterior of the vehicle so your arms aren’t flailing around. Don’t reach for the rollbar grab handles, but rather cross your arms and grip your seatbelt. When I am driving, I hold on to the steering wheel for two reasons. First, as a way to secure my hands, but with thumbs out of the wheel, of course. Second, because I may be able to affect the motion of the vehicle for the better if the front tires come back in contact with the ground. If you turn into the direction of motion and blip the throttle, you may be able to pull yourself out of it, or at least slow it down.

Check that your battery tie-down is secure and doesn’t allow your battery to bounce around at all. This is Candy’s custom-made tie-down.

After

Once the vehicle has stopped moving, the first thing you should do is turn off the ignition. You want electricity and fuel flow to stop as soon as possible. Furthermore, if you are upside down with the motor running, you risk blowing up the motor. Next, before anyone jumps out, assess the area’s situation and stability of the rig. If you are with a group of vehicles, it is usually best for someone else from outside the rig to assess first and secure it, while the passengers stay quietly seat-belted in the fallen rig. If you are on your own, you are going to have to do your best to determine from inside the vehicle if it is safe to start to move around. Before removing seatbelts, remember that gravity is pulling you in a different direction than usual, and brace yourself accordingly. Assuming that the vehicle is not on fire and no one is seriously injured, take your time, move very carefully, and pay attention to any slight shifts in weight. Most people will be a little shaky from the adrenaline of the event, so take extra care that everyone exiting the rig is holding on securely and paying careful attention to hand holds and foot holds. If you are climbing out of a rig on its side, be careful about using a hot undercarriage to climb down.

After everyone is safely out of the rig, recovery assessment can begin. Again, the priority is determining how everyone is going to get home safely—hopefully in your up-righted rig, with only a few scratches and a great story to tell!

Secure your load. A non-stretchy cargo net, a few ratchet straps, or a full locking drawer system—all would solve the issue of these things becoming hazardous in a rollover. Tools and small items are much easier to secure when they are in a bag that can be tied down.
This is not the thing to grab for when you are in a rollover. You do not want your hands anywhere near the roof, windshield, or doors if you can help it. These are for climbing in and out of the Jeep, and a casual resting place for your hand only—NOT a safe place to have your hand when the roof and door top take a hit.
When I roll (I do this regularly—fortunately, on purpose), I hold on to the steering wheel, making sure to keep thumbs out in case the wheel whips around.
Where can you put your hands and feet that will be secure enough (and not too hot) for you to be able to climb down?
Though you should have your stuff secured enough to not become a hazard, some stuff will likely still spill. A spill kit and trash bags should be part of your regular gear anyway, but make sure to clean up any and all debris.
For the rollovers we have been around, most of the time, we just put the Jeep back on its wheels, let the fluids settle, clean it up, and drive it out. Remember that Jeeps are replaceable—lives aren’t. Like this one, most rollovers are primarily cosmetic and can be rebuilt. The driver, who had significant racing (and crashing) experience, rolled all the way over, landed on his tires, made sure everyone was okay, and kept going.
Here is that little silver two-door after reconstructive surgery. Not bad for a “salvage” Jeep, huh?
Good drivers make mistakes on easy stuff too. Keep arms and legs in, hold on, and get small.

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