In the space of seven days, from Friday, May 17 to Thursday, May 23, Pratt County experienced four rollover accidents that involved a total of eight people. Those four accidents resulted in two fatalities, five injured and one non-injury.
Three of these accidents occurred on county dirt roads but all four involved vehicles rolling over after the driver lost control.
Rollover accidents are a common type of accident that occurs on both dirt roads in the county and on paved roads as well.
In both types of accidents, speed is a related factor, said Pratt County Sheriff Vernon Chinn.
In county accidents, drivers are usually traveling too fast for the gravel conditions on the road. The vehicle starts to fishtail then slides off the road sideways where it eventually rolls over.
Depending on the speed and other factors, the vehicle can roll over several times before it comes to a stop.
On paved roads, the accident usually starts with the driver going off the edge of the road because of a distraction or falling asleep or avoiding something in the road such as another vehicle or an animal such as a deer.
The driver then jerks the car back onto the roadway and the vehicle goes into a sideways skid, goes off the road and eventually rolls over in the ditch.
In both cases, speed is a key factor.
If a vehicle goes off the road, the first task for the driver is to slow down before they try to get back on the road, Chinn said.
"Slow down where you are then get back on the road," Chinn said.
If a driver tries to jerk the vehicle back on the roadway before speed is reduced, it can cause the vehicle to go into a skid and send it off the road again.
The driver should hang on tight to the steering wheel and slow the vehicle down in the ditch then, when the vehicle is under control, gradually bring it back up on the road surface.
The driver may have signs, culverts and other roadside items to avoid while slowing down so the driver has to make quick decisions while getting the vehicle under control.
On dirt roads, speed on the road is usually the culprit that starts the skid.
The speed limit on county roads, on both blacktop and dirt surfaces, is 55 mph and that is under ideal conditions.
The quality of dirt roads in the county can vary greatly. Some areas have smooth, hard packed surfaces while others have shifting sand that is uneven and can have ruts that make control difficult. Surface conditions can change quickly on a county road so drivers have to be alert at all times and keep the speed to a level that is safe for the existing conditions.
Driving on a gravel road can be a challenge especially for young drivers that have less experience. Keeping the vehicle at a safe speed for road conditions will help prevent accidents.
"Speed and gravel don't mix," Chinn said. "Inexperience and speed will result in disaster on gravel."
Whether driving on a highway, blacktop or gravel road, driving is a full time job. It needs the driver's full time and attention, Chinn said.
Cell phones, text messaging, CDs, children, friends, food can all be distractions and must be handled wisely for safe driving.
Safe driving also means using available safety equipment, especially seatbelts.
To help reduce injuries and deaths in these or any other types of accidents, everyone in a vehicle must wear seatbelts at all times.
Besides being a safety factor, it is the law. All occupants of a vehicle must be restrained.
"Seatbelts save lives. That cannot be debated," Chinn said.
During a rollover accident, tremendous forces are at work inside the vehicle. If a person is ejected, they have no protection from hitting the ground or the vehicle rolling over them. Hitting the ground during a high-speed ejection can cause critical or fatal injuries.
Seatbelts keep the person inside the vehicle and greatly reduce the possibility of injury.
"It's awfully hard to survive an ejection," Chinn said. "I have worked accidents where if the victim had been wearing a seatbelt they would have walked away, no question."
Accidents are preventable. Safe driving is not an accident, it requires a plan to be safe, Chinn said.