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What Makes Sideswipe Collisions so Dangerous?

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What Makes Sideswipe Collisions so Dangerous?

Sideswipe Collisions
When we think about a car accident, either a head-on collision or rear-end collision usually comes to mind. We rarely consider the possibility of another common accident, the sideswipe collision.
According to data from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), there are 242,000 sideswipe crashes each year. More than 2,500 fatalities each year and about 27,000 injuries result from sideswipe accidents. Sideswipe collisions account for 2.7 percent of fatal crashes of all types. We tend to associate these accidents with fairly minor property damage, such as scrapes or dents. However, many involve serious injuries. In a sideswipe collision, even at lower speeds, drivers may lose control, and the car may spin out or crash in other ways. Any type of accident can cause injuries. However, occupants are more protected by the front and back ends of a vehicle, while occupants are less protected by the sides of the vehicle.

What Is a Sideswipe Collision?

Sideswipe accidents occur when the side of one vehicle hits, scrapes, or makes contact with the side of another. The vehicles may travel in the same direction or opposite directions. They can happen between two vehicles in motion or between a vehicle in motion and a stopped vehicle.

Causes of Sideswipe Collisions

More than 90 percent of all car crashes in the US involve driver error. A careless driver might be looking at the road ahead but may not be paying attention to what is happening at the sides of the vehicle. A sideswipe accident can happen anywhere on the road, but they frequently happen at intersections or on the freeway. They happen for a variety of reasons, but common causes include:
  • Driver distraction. Sometimes a driver looks away, takes their hands off of the wheel, or is simply not paying attention. Any activity that diverts attention from driving, even for a few seconds, can lead to an accident. Common distractions include texting, cell phone use, navigation systems, the radio, eating, or grooming. Such distractions pull a driver’s attention away from the road, sometimes causing them to drift out of their lanes or fail to check a blind spot when making a lane change.
  • Driving under the influence. Drugs and alcohol impair judgment and slow driver response times. A driver who is under the influence may wander out of their lane or misjudge the distance between vehicles.
  • Driver fatigue. The National Safety Council compares fatigued driving to impaired driving. Tired drivers fall asleep at the wheel, often veering into another lane. Every year about 100,000 police-reported crashes involve drowsy driving.
  • Aggressive driving. Many aggressive driving behaviors, such as speeding, illegal passing, cutting another vehicle off, or running another driver off the road, lead to sideswipe collisions.
Common scenarios that can lead to sideswipe collisions include:
  • A high-clearance vehicle, such as a truck, for which the driver fails to check their blind spot during a lane change.
  • Sideswipe collisions often happen when a car is attempting to merge onto another road or highway. When merging from an on-ramp, the merging car may fail to yield to highway traffic, or another driver may fail to switch to the opposite lane if doing so is reasonably safe.
  • Someone makes a lane change and fails to check their mirrors and blind spots or is simply inattentive.
  • Improper turns. When there is more than one turn lane, and two vehicles are turning simultaneously, one of the vehicles may misjudge the distance, turn too tightly or too wide and cause a sideswipe event with the vehicle next to it.
  • Drivers may try to cut in front of another vehicle or misjudge the distance between two cars.
  • Failing to move over when necessary. If a driver is going past a previous accident or emergency vehicles on the side of the roadway and fails to safely move one lane over, they may sideswipe vehicles on the side of the road.
  • Narrow one-lane roads or narrow one-way streets with many parked vehicles.
  • A driver is going too fast in rainy or winter conditions.
  • An unrelated accident. A sudden, unrelated accident, or even a near-miss, may cause a vehicle to lose control and enter another lane of travel.
  • Drivers may sideswipe parked vehicles or a vehicle attempting to leave a parking space and enter the stream of traffic.

Injuries Resulting From Sideswipe Collisions

The injuries and vehicle damage after a sideswipe accident depend on a variety of factors. These include the size of the vehicle, the speed, and the force of the impact. Injuries and damage may be particularly severe if the crash involves a smaller vehicle and a large, heavy vehicle with a heavy protruding bumper or a big commercial vehicle. Sometimes, even a slight impact that does relatively minor damage to the vehicles can cause one or both drivers to lose control and end up in secondary collisions, which may cause serious injuries. There are two broad categories of injuries caused by car accidents: (1) impact injuries and (2) penetrating injuries. Blunt trauma to the body may result in an impact injury. The penetration of sharp objects such as broken glass into the skin or soft tissues is a penetrating injury. Those seated in the back on the same side as the crash impact (often children) are more vulnerable. In general, those seated in the front benefit from more advanced safety technology. If a person has been in a car accident, even if they are not in pain or think their injuries are minor, it’s best to seek medical advice. Sometimes symptoms may not show up for hours or days, or the victim may have an internal injury which is dangerous if left untreated. Common injuries can include:
  • Back and spinal cord injuries. The nerves of the spinal cord control movement and sensation. Therefore, a spinal cord injury may cause partial or complete paralysis.
  • Traumatic brain injuries. These may cause physical, cognitive, and emotional impairments. The consequences can take a huge physical, psychological and financial toll on victims and their families.
  • Whiplash. Whiplash is a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck.
  • Internal injuries. Fragile organs such as the liver, spleen, and kidney can rupture or cause internal bleeding.
  • Amputated and crushed limbs. A limb may become pinned in the accident vehicle.
  • Broken bones and orthopedic injuries. These injuries are often painful, slow to heal, and may lead to long-term physical disabilities.
  • Burns. These terribly painful injuries have a high risk of infection, and often cause permanent disfiguring scars.
  • Contusions and bruising. Collisions often lead to serious and painful external and internal bruising. Bone contusions are especially painful.

Who Is Liable for a Sideswipe Collision?

Drivers must stay in their own lane of travel unless turning or making a lane change. When making a lane change, a driver must first use the appropriate turn signal and check to make sure that the lane they’re moving into is free of traffic so that moving into the lane will not pose a traffic hazard. In sideswipe accidents, liability often falls on the driver who fails to maintain his or her lane. The exception to this rule may be when two vehicles attempt to enter the same lane of travel at the same time or when the sideswipe occurs because of an unrelated accident. To prove liability in a sideswipe or other type of traffic-related crash, you must show that:
  • The liable party owed you a duty of care. Drivers have a duty of care to operate the vehicle safely and lawfully.
  • The liable party breached this duty of care. The breach of duty means the driver’s negligent behavior that led to the crash, such as failure to properly maintain their own lane, distracted driving, or alcohol impairment.
  • The breach of duty harmed a person.
  • The breach caused the accident. There must be proof that the liable party’s breach caused the injury, which resulted in the injuries and expenses incurred by the victim.
The injured person often assumes that the other driver in a sideswipe accident should pay for their damages. In many cases, they are correct. However, multiple parties, including individuals, employers, or governmental entities, could also face legal liability for causing a sideswipe accident. Potentially liable parties may include:
  • Drivers, whose actions behind the wheel led to a sideswipe crash;
  • Employers of drivers who cause a sideswipe collision while driving a work vehicle;
  • Car manufacturers, if a defective car or component malfunctions and contributes to the cause of a sideswipe collision accident;
  • Local and state government agencies and contractors responsible for road design and maintenance if an unreasonably dangerous road condition leads to a sideswipe crash.

Damages

Obtaining full and fair compensation for an injured person means accounting for losses, and also understanding how the accident affected the victim’s life. Although every case is different, compensation may include such losses as:
  • Medical expenses the victim incurred for treatment of the injuries suffered in the accident. This includes emergency care, hospitalization, doctor visits, medication, medical equipment, long-term care, and therapy.
  • Non-medical expenses the victim needs because of their injuries, such as services to help with the tasks of daily living, childcare, dog walking, or transportation.
  • Lost income. This includes both past and future lost wages. In some cases, the victim never returns to their previous job.
  • Physical pain, emotional suffering, damaged personal relationships, and reduced quality of life, resulting from the sideswipe collision accident and injuries.
  • Punitive damages. In some cases, the court awards punitive damages. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish extremely reckless or outrageous conduct and deter such actions in the future.

What Should You Do After a Sideswipe Collision?

In the aftermath of an accident, you may be in pain, disoriented, or unsure of what to do next. The following steps protect you and your rights under the law:
  • Seek medical attention: Get medical attention as quickly as possible, even if you feel you were not injured in the car crash. Some injuries may not show up immediately, and the adrenaline from the accident can mask symptoms. Delaying treatment may cause your injuries to become worse. Obtaining medical care can also protect any future legal claim, and the medical records will be important evidence when proving the injury.
  • Stay at the scene of the accident unless you need to leave for medical reasons. It is against the law to leave the scene of any accident, including a sideswipe accident. Remain at the scene of the accident until the police arrive.
  • Contact the police: Different states have different legal requirements about whether you must call 911 from the scene of a car accident. These usually concern the extent of property damage and whether anyone was hurt. The police will make an accident report, which may help when filing a claim. You should also call the police if you believe the other party has broken the law.
    Take photos: If possible, take pictures of your injuries, the damage to your vehicle (both interior and exterior), and the accident scene. Note any debris, skid marks, or traffic signs or signals. If you notice video cameras in the area, they may have recorded the accident. However, sometimes businesses only keep these recordings for a limited time, so it is best to obtain them right away.
  • Write down contact information: You should take down the name, contact number, driver’s license number, license plate number, and insurance details of the individual who hit you so you can file a claim with the correct insurance company. Also, try to obtain contact information for any witnesses.
  • Russell Nicolet

    Russell Nicolet, Car Accident Lawyer

    Call an attorney: Always consult a car accident attorney before signing any settlement documents or providing statements to insurance representatives. There are strict time limits for filing lawsuits and insurance claims, so don’t delay.
  • Take notes. Soon after the accident, take notes about what happened. Include details such as time of day, traffic, road, and weather conditions. As time goes on, you may find you have forgotten many of these important details. You can also keep a journal of the progress of your recovery.
  • Avoid social media. Do not post pictures or comments about your accident on social media. These could be damaging to a later claim.
If you were injured or your vehicle was damaged in a sideswipe accident, contact our experienced car accident attorney who can help you understand your options.
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