Utah driver shares lessons from crash narrowly missed

Mar 7, 2018, 9:31 PM | Updated: Mar 8, 2018, 12:17 am

Sunday morning was a dangerous time on the roads along the Wasatch Front with snow falling at a rate of more than an inch an hour at times. The Utah Highway Patrol responded to nearly 200 crashes that day.

Trent Nielsen, of Murray, narrowly avoided becoming a statistic, and has a lesson to share.

“The roads,” he said, “There were spots where they were really bad.”

Mid-morning Sunday, I-15 was wet and slushy. Nielsen and his wife, Sheri Joi, were headed to Ogden for an anniversary in the family, when a close call nearly turned their day upside down.

Nielsen was driving his Ford F-250 pickup, pulling an 18-foot flatbed trailer that was heavy with snow. The trailer had picked up a foot of snow overnight, and more slush was splashing onto it as they drove on the interstate.

“I can feel the slush building on it because when I change lanes, I can feel it pull the back of my truck more, and more,” said Nielsen.

They were traveling I-15 north through Woods Cross, 50 to 60 mph, when they spotted a car in the right lane about 100 yards ahead of them. His dash cam was recording video out the front windshield.

Trent and Sheri Joi Nielsen

“We just see him hit slush,” said Nielsen. “I see this big wall of water, and I see him starting to slide.”

As he sees the sedan lose control, he’s bearing down on it trying to control his pick up and trailer.

“It happened so fast,” he said. “He just comes shooting across that freeway, and my only thought was, ‘don’t go into a slide.’”

He knew that would be a disaster with his trailer.

“I let off the gas,” Nielsen said. “Let off the brake, didn’t hit the brake, didn’t jerk the wheel.”

He gently eased the steering wheel to the right, trying to feel his truck’s traction as he closes in on the sedan that has come to rest in the middle lane.

“He spun around and was facing us,” said Nielsen. “My Ford F-250, my bumper is like windshield height. I can’t even imagine him, and what he thought.”

Nielsen drove by in the slush, missing a collision by inches.

“I’m looking in my mirrors, and I see my trailer just right next to the side of his car.”

“I just held my breath,” said his wife, who was glad she wasn’t driving. “I was surprised I was so calm, too.”

KSL showed the video to UHP Sergeant Rich Nielson, to get his impressions of the near miss. He said the motorist did several things properly to avoid a dangerous crash.

First of all, Nielsen wasn’t driving too fast, or following too close. He was watching the road, scanning for potential hazards, and he kept his cool when danger arose.

“He didn’t panic,” said Sgt. Nielson. “He maintained control of himself and the truck.”

He did not hit the brakes, or jerk the steering wheel in a panic.

“Small movements, a lot of times, are going to be better than drastic movements, whether it’s drastic braking, or drastic steering,” said Sgt. Nielson. “Once you hit the brakes, especially on slick roads, you lose what little bit of friction you have at that point. So, if you can keep your tires rolling, you do have a lot more control of your vehicle instead of slamming on the brakes.”

Trent and Sheri Joi Nielsen said there’s a lot of focus on safe driving in their family, right now.

“We have teenage drivers,” said Nielsen, “And we’re always saying don’t overreact. Don’t overreact.”

Those lessons, fresh in his mind, helped him Sunday. Had he been speeding, distracted, or impaired, Nielsen knows the outcome could have been very different.

“Even one second is so much time wasted in a scenario like that,” he said. “It makes me cringe to think what could have even happened.”

“If he would have been going even five more miles an hour, he would not have been able to slow down enough to avoid hitting the car,” Sgt. Nielson said.

For snow driving, he recommends we drive within the conditions, scan the road ahead for hazards, and plan ahead for how you’ll react to potential dangerous scenarios on the road. For example, consider how you’ll respond if a car slides in front of you. Coach yourself to stay calm, and plan for subtle, rather than drastic movements.

“If you can think of those things beforehand, your mind is going to be somewhat prepared to handle those situations,” said Sgt. Nielson.

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Utah driver shares lessons from crash narrowly missed