As compared to other types of auto accidents, people hear the phrase “sideswipe collision” and tend to picture a relatively minor accident. In reality, much of the time a sideswipe collision is anything but inconsequential. Sideswipes can cause significant property damage, of course. But worse, they can cause either driver to lose control, leading to secondary collisions, rollovers, and similar catastrophic events. Make no mistake: sideswipe collisions can easily leave drivers and their passengers severely or even fatally injured.
In this blog post, we shine a light on sideswipe collisions. We discuss what they are, how they happen and what victims of these accidents can do to seek justice and compensation for the injuries and losses these accidents cause.
Just What Is a Sideswipe Collision, Anyway?
A “sideswipe collision” is any collision between two vehicles in which the point of impact is on the side of both vehicles throughout the collision. In that sense, sideswipe accidents differ from “angular” or “t-bone” collisions, when the front of one vehicle collides with the side of another. Another way to say “sideswipe” might be “side-on-side,” or “door-on-door,” in other words. A more scientific way of saying this, courtesy of Brach Engineering, is that a sideswipe collision is “a vehicle crash with a non-zero final relative tangential velocity. That is, the vehicles continue to slide relative to each other (along the contact surface) throughout the entire duration of contact.”
Sideswipe collisions can happen between a vehicle in motion and a stopped vehicle, or between two vehicles in motion. They can also happen between vehicles traveling (or pointing) in the same direction, or vehicles traveling (or pointing) in opposite directions.
A feature of sideswipe collisions that distinguishes them from other Florida auto accidents is that the initial impact in a sideswipe collision tends to have less force behind it than others, such as rear-end, head-on, or T-bone collisions. This is why many people picture a sideswipe collision and associate it with cosmetic damage to vehicles, but not necessarily trauma to drivers and passengers. For instance, you might picture a scenario in which the driver-side mirrors of two cars passing in opposite directions on a narrow road clip each other.
Yet, while sideswipe collisions do have relatively less force associated with the initial impact, their consequences can be no less deadly than any other accidents. Drivers often lose control of their vehicles after a sideswipe accident, with catastrophic consequences. According to the Insurance Information Institute, annually roughly seven percent of all fatal vehicle-on-vehicle collisions (and nearly three percent of all fatal accidents, no matter how many vehicles were involved) are sideswipe accidents. That may not seem like a lot until you realize that accounts for just shy of 1,000 fatal accidents every year.
Common Sideswipe Collisions Scenarios
We know what a sideswipe collision is. Now, let’s explore the driving situations in which they most often occur, with help from a 2003 study from the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In Same-Direction Travel
Sideswipe collisions between vehicles traveling (or pointing) in the same direction tend to occur in one of several basic scenarios.
- Changing lanes. Two vehicles traveling in the same direction on a two-lane road collide when one vehicle intentionally or unintentionally leaves its lane and collides side-to-side with a vehicle traveling in the adjacent lane.
- Passing. Two vehicles traveling in the same direction on a two-lane road collide when one vehicle tries to overtake the other and does not move over far enough to avoid side-to-side contact.
- Merging. Two vehicles traveling in the same direction at a point where two roads or lanes merge collide when one fails to yield the right of way to the other, resulting in a side-to-side impact.
- Stopped car/car pulling out. Two vehicles can collide side-to-side when a vehicle in motion fails to leave enough room in passing a stationary car, or when a car begins moving into traffic from a stopped position without yielding the right-of-way.
In Opposite-Direction Travel
Sideswipe collisions between vehicles traveling (or pointing) in opposite directions, though less common, happen in these situations.
- Leaving lane/crowding oncoming lane. Two vehicles traveling in opposite directions on a two lane road with one travel lane in either direction collide when one or both vehicles drift from their designated travel lane or crowd too close to the centerline, resulting in a side-on-side impact.
- Wrong way. Two vehicles collide side-to-side when one of them travels the wrong way on a one-way road or lane.
- Stopped car/car pulling out. Same as above, but with cars facing in opposite directions when the collision occurs.
To be sure, there are other ways sideswipe collisions can happen, and there are both variants on and combinations of the scenarios above that can lead to that sort of accident.
We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention that many of these accidents occur between vehicles of different sizes. As this Federal Highway Administration study reflects, for instance, car-and-truck sideswipe accidents commonly occur in the lane-change scenario above, because trucks have large blind spots where cars can inadvertently hide, leading to an accident when the truck driver changes lanes. Likewise, there is a high risk of sideswipe collisions involving cars and motorcycles, because motorists often fail to pay attention to motorcyclists in an adjacent lane.
No matter how a sideswipe collision develops, the speed at which it occurs can play a significant role in how badly hurt it leaves the drivers and passengers involved. As a general matter, the higher the speeds, the greater the possibility of a secondary accident that causes catastrophic damage and fatal injury. Which is not to say, however, that people are always able to walk away from a low-speed sideswipe accident. Whenever two cars collide, there is an extremely high risk of someone getting badly hurt.
Reducing Sideswipe Collision Risks
There are some actions drivers can take to reduce their risk of a sideswipe collision. New technologies may also help.
Driver Strategies for Reducing Sideswipes
Drivers can reduce their risk of getting into a sideswipe accident by following the rules of the road and practicing safe driving behavior. No, that isn’t really groundbreaking advice, but it’s true. Sideswipe accidents (at least those that occur on safe road surfaces) are almost entirely preventable. Some specific practices that help to avoid sideswipe accident in particular include:
- Signaling lane changes. By signaling a lane change, you tell other drivers your intentions and gives them a chance to take measures to avoid a collision.
- Checking mirrors and blind spots. Avoiding a sideswipe is probably the biggest reason to practice these basic skills behind the wheel. When you look before changing lanes, you increase the odds of preventing a collision.
- Avoiding distractions, impairment, and fatigue. Sideswipes often result from cars drifting from their lanes. Three of the most common causes of lane departures are distracted driving, alcohol and/or drug impairment, and driver fatigue. By keeping your eyes on the road, your mind clear, and your body well-rested, you will minimize your risk of leaving your lane and colliding with another vehicle.
- Traveling at an appropriate speed. In crowded driving conditions, such as on narrow roads or in high traffic, you can significantly reduce your risk of a sideswipe simply by slowing down and giving yourself more time to avoid hazards.
In 2018, the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety published a research brief discussing the potential benefits of widespread adoption of “driver assistance systems.” The Brief contained some eye-popping conclusions about lane departure warning (LDW), lane keeping assistance (LKA), and blind spot warning (BSW) systems, in particular. According to the Brief, these systems could help prevent hundreds of thousands of sideswipe collisions annually, resulting in the prevention of tens of thousands of injuries, and hundreds (and possibly thousands) of deaths.
And yet, despite the major impact these technologies could have, the Brief also notes that in the aggregate, their maximum benefit –- at least for now –- would still prevent slightly less than one-third of annual traffic deaths in the United States. Which is why the safe-driving strategies above remain critical to keeping yourself, your passengers, and other drivers safe.
Tips for the Aftermath of a Sideswipe Collision
As personal injury lawyers, we are full of advice for people who have been in accidents. Most of the general advice we have about what to do after a car accident is of a general nature, such as:
- Seek immediate medical attention, whether or not you think you were injured;
- If possible, exchange information and take pictures of the accident scene;
- Avoid taking the blame for an accident, even by making offhand comments that could be misinterpreted;
- Comply with the provisions of your Personal Injury Protection (PIP or “no-fault”) insurance policy (but, again, don’t admit fault); and
- Seek the advice of an experienced car accident lawyer, particularly if you’ve sustained severe injuries.
We can, however, offer tips that have extra relevance to preventing a sideswipe accident. They are:
- Don’t slam the brakes. Sideswipe accidents can cause a sudden, unexpected loss of control of your vehicle. The instinct for many drivers in that situation is to stomp on the brake pedal. But even with anti-lock brakes standard on most cars, that is often the wrong way to react, because it can result in the loss of steering control. It is safer to step off of the gas and steer gently away from the contact with the other vehicle.
- Pull over. Even if (in fact, especially if) the other car keeps going, pull over to the shoulder safely out of the lane of travel and call emergency responders.
- Say “yes” to medical assessment. We know, we said this above, but we can’t stress it enough. After a sideswipe collision, your adrenaline often races and you tend not to feel pain as acutely. Let an EMT check you out, and schedule a follow-up appointment with your regular doctor.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Consulting with an experienced car accident lawyer after a sideswipe accident can help you in numerous ways. Most directly, a lawyer can help you assess whether you have a potential claim for damages against someone else whose actions caused the accident.
If you are lucky, the injuries you or your passengers sustain will not be serious enough to exceed your Florida PIP coverage. Even then, you may need a lawyer to fight your own insurance company to pay for the cost of your injuries and property damage.
But many accidents are preventable, and some result in severe or tragically fatal injuries. Meeting with an attorney as soon as possible after a sideswipe collision can help you determine whether your accident is closer to one type or the other.
If an attorney advises you that you may have a viable claim for damages against the party at fault, then retaining that attorney can benefit you in the following additional ways:
- An attorney can take over communications with insurance carriers (yours and the other parties) to protect your rights;
- An attorney can investigate your accident and evaluate your injuries to identify who may have liability to you for how much money;
- An attorney can draft “demand” letters to the parties with legal liability, and prioritize those who have the highest probability of being able to pay you the compensation you deserve; and
- If necessary, an attorney can prepare, file, and litigate a lawsuit on your behalf seeking damages and any other appropriate form of relief.
To be clear, not every accident results in recoverable damages, and not every case in which there are recoverable damages ends in an actual recovery. But having a skilled, experienced car accident attorney by your side gives you the best possible chance of obtaining the maximum amount of money the law allows.
Sideswipe Collisions: A Real Hazard on Florida Roads
Do not take sideswipe collisions lightly. They can have deadly consequences. Staying alert on the road and practicing safe driving techniques gives you the best chance of avoiding these accidents and any secondary collisions they may cause. But, if a sideswipe collision leaves you or a family member badly hurt, speaking with an experienced Florida sideswipe car accident attorney is a smart way to protect yourself and your rights.