MURRAY — Last 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, there were spots where they were really bad,” he said.
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,” Trent Nielsen said.
They were traveling I-15 north at 50 to 60 mph through Woods Cross when they spotted a car in the right lane about 100 yards ahead of them. Trent Nielsen’s dash cam was recording video out the front windshield.
“We just see him hit slush,” Trent Nielsen said. “I see this big wall of water and I see him starting to slide. It happened so fast. He just comes shooting across that freeway, and my only thought was, ‘don’t go into a slide.’”
Trent Nielsen knew that would be a disaster with his trailer.
“I let off the gas,” he said. “Let off the brake, didn’t hit the brake, didn’t jerk the wheel.”
Trent Nielsen 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,” he said. “My Ford F-250, my bumper is like windshield height. I can’t even imagine him and what he thought.”
Trent 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 Sheri Joi Nielsen, who was glad she wasn’t driving. “I was surprised I was so calm, too.”
KSL showed the video to Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Rich Nielson to get his impressions of the near miss. He said the motorist did several things properly to avoid a dangerous crash.
First, Trent 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,” Nielson said. “He maintained control of himself and the truck.”
Trent Nielsen 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,” Nielson said. “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,” Trent Nielsen said. “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, Trent 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,” Nielson said.
For snow driving, Nielson recommends the public to drive within the conditions, scan the road ahead for hazards, and plan ahead for how you’ll react to potentially 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,” Nielson said.