What Causes Rollover Accidents?

You’ve probably passed one of these accidents on the road or seen them portrayed in movies many times, but being involved in a rollover accident is especially dangerous and scary. Generally, younger drivers who drove too fast or failed to use restraints were likelier to die in a rollover crash.

The general cause is negligence. If someone’s bad driving decisions injured you, a car accident lawyer can recover compensation for you.

How do rollover accidents happen?

What Causes Rollover Accidents?

Vehicle rollovers occur in 3 percent of traffic accidents, but these accidents cause about 30 percent of accident deaths. In its early estimates of motor vehicle traffic fatalities for the past year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) reported 7640 vehicle occupant fatalities from rollover collisions. In a recent year, 963 fatal crashes in New York claimed 1,538 lives.

A rollover accident happens when a vehicle tips or rolls onto its roof or side. Depending on the force of the crash, the vehicle may roll once or several times before coming to rest. Rollover accidents can involve one or more vehicles, but they’re most common in single-car accidents and often result in serious or even fatal injuries. Many forces may contribute to a rollover. There are two basic types of rollover accidents:

Tripped rollovers. This type of rollover occurs when the vehicle leaves the roadway and something tips it. These circumstances cause a sudden increase in lateral force, which account for 95 percent of single-car rollover accidents. A tripped rollover occurs when the vehicle leaves the roadway and “trips” over something that causes it to roll over. The trip may be soft soil that the tires dig into or something such as a curb, median, or guardrail. Some rollover crash tests revealed that light trucks were more likely to roll over after hitting specific guard rail designs.

When a vehicle crosses a critical slope steeper than 33 percent, it may overturn. For example, a trailer that jackknifes can force the towing vehicle into a rollover if the vehicle is in a tripped situation. In addition, sometimes strong winds may cause high-sided vehicles such as trucks, buses, and vans to tip over.

Untripped rollovers. This rollover type is rare, accounting for only about 5 percent. They often involve a top-heavy vehicle engaging in a high-speed collision avoidance maneuver. About half of single-vehicle rollover accidents occur when a driver tries to avoid a crash with a steering maneuver.

For example, a truck may swerve suddenly to avoid hitting a vehicle that pulls out in front of it, causing the truck to tip. A cornering rollover is also a common untripped rollover situation when cornering forces destabilize the vehicle. As a vehicle rounds a corner, three forces act on it: tire forces, inertia, and gravity, which together cause it to roll over.

What causes a rollover accident?

As with other motor vehicle accidents, many factors may contribute to the crash. Road conditions, vehicular elements, environmental factors, and the driver’s role in the crash may determine liability for an accident.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), about 85 percent of all rollovers are single-vehicle accidents. In these cases, individual driver behavior likely plays the most significant factor in the cause of the crash.

In many circumstances, any vehicle can roll over. However, tall, narrow motor vehicles such as trucks, vans, and SUVs are more likely to roll over or tip than sedans and small cars because they tend to have a higher center of gravity and narrow widths, making them more top-heavy.

or example, when a vehicle travels around a curve too quickly, the center of gravity shifts to one side, throwing the vehicle’s balance off. Once it starts to slide sideways, it may tip. High speed and rapid changes in direction create greater risk, such as a driver making too sharp a turn and then overcorrecting, causing them to lose control of the vehicle.

Full-size vans, which can carry many passengers, require heavy-duty suspensions to carry so many people. These heavy-duty suspensions raise the vans’ center of gravity; thus, it is more likely to roll over. Vehicles are also more likely to tip over when carrying heavy loads, such as cargo on a van’s roof.

Common elements contributing to rollover accidents are:

  • Vehicles with a high center of gravity. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Rollover Resistance Rating determines how stable the vehicle is and estimates the risk of a rollover in a single-car crash. But even under the best road and weather conditions, vehicles such as large trucks, SUVs, and vans have a greater risk of rollover due to their higher center of gravity.
  • Multi-vehicle accidents. Although most rollover accidents are one-vehicle occurrences, multiple vehicles are involved in some accidents. For example, if one vehicle hits the other from the side, it can cause it to roll over or tip. These rollovers often result from a high-speed collision between two or more vehicles in which the force of the collision causes one or more cars to roll over.
  • Tire blowouts. Safe tires are an important part of rollover prevention. In the best-case scenario, the car grips the road with all four wheels on the ground. But paradoxically, too much tire grip can contribute to the build-up of lateral forces, leading to the car tipping over. Defective tires can cause blowouts which may cause the vehicle to tip over, especially if the vehicle is otherwise prone to rollovers. Tire tread separation or tire failure makes it far more difficult for the driver to regain control of the vehicle.
  • Poor road and weather conditions. Unsafe road conditions such as poorly maintained roads, inadequate warning signs, construction, or debris can contribute to rollovers. Strong wind can be dangerous, especially for larger vehicles. A sudden gust of wind can cause the vehicle to become unbalanced and possibly tip over.
  • Alcohol or drug use. As with all motor vehicle accidents, drug or alcohol use was also a risk factor for rollover crashes. Many research studies have shown that it does not take much of these substances to affect driver performance. Substance use contributes to driver error, decreasing cognitive functioning and reducing reaction times. In about 50 percent of fatal rollover crashes, one or more drivers were intoxicated.
  • Speed. Speeding is a contributing factor in all kinds of accidents. In fact, 40 percent of fatal rollover car crashes involve speeding. Nearly 75 percent of fatal rollover crashes happen on rural roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. Higher speeds create more force, which can lead to rollovers.
  • Inattentiveness. Driver behavior contributes to a great many rollover crashes. Even when driving on a straight roadway in favorable conditions, statistics show that 90 percent of vehicles in fatal, single-vehicle rollover crashes resulted from driver error. Careless or reckless driver behavior, such as fatigued or distracted driving, plays a part in many rollover crashes. Distracted driving is any activity that diverts someone’s attention from driving. Common distractions include texting, talking on a cell phone, using GPS, talking to passengers, and eating or drinking.
  • Improperly loaded cargo. A heavy cargo load can throw off weight distribution, increasing the risk of a rollover. Truck crashes often occur when tractor-trailers don’t have their loads properly secured or distributed. This weight disparity can cause them to flip over when swerving or turning.

Common rollover injuries

Rollover crashes are especially dangerous for vehicle occupants compared to front, rear or side crashes. These accidents often cause partial or complete ejection from the vehicle, which increases the risk of catastrophic injuries. In addition, in normal passenger vehicles, the roof is likely to collapse in towards the occupants and cause severe or fatal head injuries. A person inside a rolling or tipping vehicle usually hits the vehicle’s interior, causing severe injuries.

Common injuries in a rollover accident include:

  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Whiplash
  • Back injuries
  • Paralysis
  • Brain injuries and concussions
  • Internal organ damage, such as fractured ribs, kidney or liver injuries
  • Bone fractures
  • Burns, cuts, and bruises
  • Amputations

Who can you hold liable for a rollover accident?

Typically, determining who is responsible for any car accident is challenging. Usually, there are various factors at play, such as a vehicle defect, poor road maintenance, or a reckless driver.


Rollover accidents are often the result of negligent driving, such as speeding, aggressive driving, driving under the influence, or driving while fatigued. For example, a vehicle can tip over or roll if the driver makes a sharp turn without first slowing down. If a motorist forces another driver to make an unsafe maneuver that results in a rollover, they may be at fault. For example, if a driver changes lanes without warning and forces another vehicle to swerve and flip over, they may be liable.

Those responsible for road maintenance

If roads are poorly designed or maintained, government agencies or other entities responsible for designing and maintaining safe roads may be responsible for the accident.

Those responsible for defective products

Any or all persons or entities along the manufacturing or distribution chain may be liable for damage caused by the product under the theory of product liability. These parties include the manufacturer, wholesaler, and retail sales party. If a vehicle or any of its components are defective, it may increase the risk of a rollover accident.

Common defects that may contribute to a serious rollover crash include:

  • Brake failure.
  • Defective tires.
  • Malfunctioning steering mechanism.
  • Seatbelt or airbag failure.
  • Improper or excessive cargo loading.

What damages can you claim compensation for in a rollover accident?

A rollover accident’s personal and financial costs can be dire and life-altering. Prompt medical treatment is essential. Therefore, medical bills start accumulating at once, and routine bills continue to mount after the accident. Meanwhile, the injured person may be unable to work, temporarily or permanently. They may need extensive and long-term treatment.

Factors such as the severity of your injuries and how they impact your life affect damage awards. It can also take time before it is clear how much you have been affected by your injury.

You may recover compensation for all of the damages you suffered in an accident, such as:

  • All current and future medical expenses related to your injuries.
  • Lost wages for the time you were unable to work because of injury.
  • Lost future income if you are unable to return to work or are not able to continue in your chosen career.
  • Expenses for home maintenance, childcare, and other duties you previously performed.
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Emotional distress.
  • Mental anguish.
  • Diminished quality of life.
  • Loss of consortium.

Steps to take after a rollover accident


Rollover accidents are traumatic and often happen so fast that you don’t have time to react. However, if your vehicle starts to tip and you think it may roll, experts recommend that you take your feet off the pedals, cross your arms over your chest, and lean back into your seat. It helps reduce the risk of some of the common rollover injuries.

If you can:

  • Turn off your engine immediately after the vehicle has come to a stop. Use extreme caution when exiting the vehicle and try to get away safely.
  • Call 911 to report the accident and get help.
  • Exercise extreme caution when exiting the vehicle. Look for the safest route and get yourself and others away from the vehicle.
  • Seek medical attention right away. It is important to be evaluated by a medical professional because some injuries do not appear right away. You may not notice the pain or other symptoms for hours or days after the accident. If your injuries go untreated, they may worsen and delay your recovery.
  • If you can, note contact information for witnesses and those involved in the accident. Take photos and videos of the scene and the vehicles.
  • Do not post about the accident on social media.
  • Do not sign a statement or accept a settlement offer without consulting a lawyer.

If a rollover accident has injured you or a loved one, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible. As with all lawsuits, there is a time limit for filing, and the claims process takes time. A skilled, experienced car accident attorney can explain your legal options and protect your legal rights. Contact a car accident lawyer now for your free case evaluation and learn how they can pursue the compensation you deserve for your injuries.