Investigation into San Diego SUV rollover accident reminds young drivers to take it slow

by Michael Pines, Accident & Injury Prevention Expert

It’s been more than a year since a tragic teen rollover car accident affected three San Diegans, in addition to injuring more than a dozen people and killing four others. Now, the California Highway Patrol has completed its year-long investigation into the accident, and despite the series of events that caused the crash, one fact is certain: it’s never been more important to educate our teens about safe driving in order to reduce the risk of car accidents across United States.

In a series of tragic events occurring last August on I-395, teen driver Natalie Nield, 18, was speeding in her SUV when she lost control over the vehicle and drove into oncoming traffic. Witnesses say the Ford Expedition began rolling head-on into the opposing lane where it collided with a van of college athletes.

Now in wake of the investigation, authorities say that Nield was driving at least 85 M.P.H. as she maneuvered to get out of the way of two big rigs which occupied both lanes of traffic. Instead of slamming her brakes in an effort to avoid a collision, Nield pulled over to the shoulder of the highway. After steering off the road and then overcorrecting, she crossed the center divider and into the other lanes of opposing traffic.

The SUV immediately caught fire and rolled until it struck the large van of college athletes.

“I just remember a flash,” said the van’s driver. “And then I woke up and I was two inches from Wendy’s [a passenger’s] seat,” Benson recalled last May. “My window was blown out, I could reach out, I could feel the heat from the fire.”

Many accidents like these can be avoided with the right teen driver’s education in place. And while the state of California requires rigorous hours of practice behind the wheel, it can often be the extra steps beyond the state minimum that can make all the difference in helping to reduce accidents.

Going the extra mile: how to educate your teen driver about freeway safety

Parents should work with their teens to practice freeway driving in addition to routine driver’s education courses. Consider the following tips as you allow your teen to practice more freeway driving skills in your supervision.

Add freeway routes at least once per week

Try to avoid the temptation to stick to surface streets during your teen’s practice time. Once your teen is comfortable, have them practice driving on freeways. Naturally, cautious teens may feel nervous to take on the freeway, but as long as they have existing hours clocked, and feel at least comfortable enough to try it, doing it under parental supervision can ensure reinforcement coaching such as speed control and an explanation on how the lane system works.

Discuss on- and off- ramps

Even for some experienced drivers, the act of merging on or off a freeway can be a daunting experience, especially with traffic. Try driving on freeways during busier times of the day once your teen driver becomes more experienced and comfortable with freeway travel. Be sure to explain the importance of preplanning a trip so there are no surprises or rash decisions being made at relatively high speeds.

Enforce speed limits

Of course, drivers can count on the California Highway Patrol to enforce speed, but parents can up the ante with at-home consequences for speeding. If your teen is caught speeding and is ticketed, be sure you have non-negotiable consequences in place for the action. A fair reprimand might be to lose driving privileges for a period of time, and double the ticket fees at home by paying it off through extra housework or chores. Most importantly, however, the idea behind the punishment is not to begrudge your teen – rather, it is critical to explain to your teen the importance of their safety and why the consequence has been enacted. Without an understanding of why consequences happen, teens can often rebel against parents. Always make sure your teen understands that every driving rule is there to promote his or her safety. To reduce confusion, make sure you and your teen enter into a

teen driving contract

before they head out on their own.

If a car accident occurs

Be sure your teen knows what to do in an accident. Download our

free car accident checklist

and review it with your teen. Unfortunately, if your teen is involved in an injury car accident, the Law Offices of Michael Pines may be able to help. Call us today at 1-800-655-6585 or

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