It was six in the morning on St. Patrick's Day, 2012, when Hannah Ritchie's headlights revealed a dog on the freeway. “I swerved to the left to avoid the dog and then swerved to the right to avoid hitting the median guard rail, resulting in my Jeep swerving back and forth along four lanes of the freeway and eventually rolling over three or four times,” says the 27-year-old resident of Sacramento, California.

While relatively rare, rollover accidents cause approximately one third of all vehicle occupant fatalities, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Here's how to avoid or survive one.

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Be mindful of tall vehicles. While any automobile can roll over, SUVs, light trucks and vans do so more easily. They have a higher center of gravity that makes them relatively easy to tip over. Loading passengers into a van or cargo onto the roof of any vehicle also will raise its center of gravity.

“I wasn't used to driving an SUV, since I had only owned smaller cars up until about a month prior to the accident, so I quickly lost control,” says Ritchie.

If you're inside of a relatively heavy vehicle, like an SUV, you're more likely to survive a rollover than the occupants of a lightweight one. Visit to see the rollover safety rating for your vehicle.

Maneuver carefully. Rollovers often occur after the driver turns too suddenly, over-corrects to avoid obstacles or hits the brakes too hard. If you have to swerve, steer and brake gradually until you've returned to your lane.

Buckle your seatbelt. In a survey of rollover accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found 87 percent of people who were thrown out of their vehicles didn't have their seatbelts on. You're far more likely to survive if your body stays inside the vehicle, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Ritchie was wearing her seatbelt, which probably saved her life. “When the car stopped, all I heard was the sound of my radio going and cars on the adjacent freeway,” says Ritchie. “I slowly lifted my head and opened my eyes to find myself upright, off the freeway, facing the median.”

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Use the manufacturer's tires. Some SUVs come factory-equipped with tires that have a little less grip than those on regular cars, according to Consumer Reports. This helps the vehicle to slide a little during an emergency, instead of gripping the ground so tightly that that the SUV flips over.

At the same time, you don't want your tires so worn — or improperly inflated — that they don't grip well enough. When it's time to replace the original tires, select a set similar to what the factory provided, then keep them properly inflated.

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Opt for safety features. Vehicles equipped with electronic stability control, roll stability control and sensors that trigger side air bags may improve your ability to prevent or survive a rollover, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Striking your head against the roof is a major cause of rollover injuries. Another is when the roof collapses and crushes you. Choosing a vehicle with a strong frame designed to hold the roof in place with padding on the underside will help keep you safe.

Beware of country roads. Three-quarters of all rollovers occur in rural areas, according to AAA. The roads often lack safety barriers that keep you from skidding off the pavement. The shoulders, if they exist, may be soft and adjacent to embankments.

Ritchie survived her ordeal with a concussion, along with some scrapes and bruises. She went to therapy for six months to deal with post-accident emotional issues. “I will still have extreme anxiety when I'm in traffic and have to drive by another accident, but it's getting better,” she says.

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David Arv Bragi is a freelance journalist and marketing consultant. He has been writing about health and safety issues since the 1990s and currently lives in Portland, Oregon.