People hear the term sideswipe collision and picture a relatively minor accident. In reality, much of the time, a sideswipe 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 leave drivers and their passengers with severe or fatal injuries.
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. Other terms for sideswipe might include side-on-side, or door-on-door, in other words.
A more scientific way of saying this is that a sideswipe collision is a vehicle crash with a non-zero final relative tangential velocity. 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.
Sideswipe collisions distinguish themselves from other Florida auto accidents because 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 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, 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 it accounts for just shy of 1,000 fatal accidents yearly.
Common Sideswipe Collisions Scenarios
We know what a sideswipe collision is. Now, let’s explore the driving situations where they most often occur, with help from a study from the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA).
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 while passing a stationary car or when a car begins moving into traffic from a stopped position without yielding the right-of-way.
Sideswipe collisions between vehicles traveling (or pointing) in opposite directions, though less common, happen in these situations.
- Leaving lane/crowding oncoming lanes. Two vehicles traveling in opposite directions on a two-lane road 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 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 lead to that sort of accident.
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 see 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. Generally, the higher the speeds, the greater the possibility of a secondary accident that causes catastrophic damage and fatal injury. However, this is not to say that people can always walk away from a low-speed sideswipe accident. There is an extremely high risk of someone getting badly hurt whenever two cars collide.
Common Kinds of Sideswipe Injuries
Sideswipe accidents often have the potential to cause a wide range of possible injuries, some of which may be minor but many others which can be particularly severe.
Some of the most common kinds of injuries people may sustain can include:
- Back injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Internal injuries
- Broken bones and fractures
- Orthopedic injuries
- Burn injuries
- Closed head injuries
- Back injuries
- Knee injuries
- Leg injuries
- Neck injuries
- Arm injuries
- Skull fractures
- Permanent nerve injuries
- Wrongful death
Tips for the Aftermath of a Sideswipe Collision
Following a sideswipe accident, take these steps to protect your rights:
- Seek immediate medical attention, whether or not you think you suffered an injury;
- If possible, exchange information and take pictures of the accident scene;
- Avoid taking the blame for an accident, even by making offhand comments that insurers can misinterpret;
- 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.
Car accident lawyers also offer tips that have extra relevance to preventing a sideswipe accident.
- 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 losing steering control. It is safer to step off the gas and gently avoid contact with the other vehicle.
- Pull over. Even if (in fact, especially if) the other car keeps going, pull over to the shoulder safely and call emergency responders.
- Say yes to a medical assessment. A lawyer cannot stress this 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 have a viable claim for damages against the party at fault, then:
- A car accident attorney can take over communications with insurance carriers (yours and the other parties) to protect your rights;
- An auto accident attorney can investigate your accident and evaluate your injuries to identify who may have liability to you for how much money;
- A car crash attorney can draft demand letters to the parties with legal liability and prioritize those who have the highest probability of paying 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.
Not every accident recovers damages, and not every case with recoverable damages ends in an actual recovery. But a skilled, experienced car accident attorney gives you the best possible chance of obtaining the maximum amount of money the law allows.
Drivers must stay in their travel lane unless they turn or signal a lane change. When drivers change lanes, they first have to use appropriate turn signals and check to make sure the lane they are moving into is free of traffic so moving into the lane does not pose a traffic hazard.
In sideswipe accidents, liability often falls on a driver who does not maintain their lane. The exception might be two vehicles attempting to enter the same lane simultaneously or sideswipe accidents occurring because of unrelated accidents.
To prove liability in a sideswipe crash, you will have to prove:
- The negligent driver owed you a duty of care – the same duty of care all drivers have to safely operate motor vehicles.
- The negligent driver breached their duty of care, meaning their negligent behavior caused a crash.
- The breach of duty caused harm to you, meaning you suffered injuries because of the breach of duty.
- The breach of duty resulted in damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, or property damage.
While sideswipe accidents are usually limited to just the two drivers involved in a crash, there are certain exceptions in some cases.
A third party may bear liability, as in these instances:
- Employers of paid drivers causing sideswipe collisions while driving work vehicles can be liable for damages
- Motor vehicle manufacturers can be liable when a defective vehicle or component malfunctions and contributes to the cause of a sideswipe collision.
- Local and state government agencies or contractors can be responsible for faulty road design or maintenance when dangerous road conditions cause sideswipe crashes.
People can recover damages. Damages are most commonly economic or non-economic.
Economic damage is a cost that is tangible and can be proven. Non-economic damage is much more subjective and does not have an inherent financial value.
Common economic damages in sideswipe collisions include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Other out-of-pocket expenses
Non-economic damages might include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Reduced quality of life
Sideswipe Accident Statistics
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), the most common causes of sideswipe accidents included:
- Driving over the posted limit, too fast for conditions, or racing: 10,295 (19.1 percent)
- Driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication: 6,246 (11.6 percent)
- Operating vehicle in a careless manner: 3,958 (7.3 percent)
- Failure to yield right of way: 3,663 (6.8 percent)
- Failure to keep in a proper lane: 3,337 (6.2 percent)
- Distracted (phone, talking, eating, object, etc.): 2,968 (5.5 percent)
- Operating a motor vehicle erratically, recklessly, or negligently: 2,356 (4.4 percent)
- Failure to obey traffic signs, signals, or officers: 2,250 (4.2 percent)
- Overcorrecting/oversteering: 1,744 (3.2 percent)
- Drowsy, asleep, fatigued, ill, or blacked out: 1,165 (2.2 percent)
- Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, etc.: 1,138 (2.1 percent)
- Driving wrong way on one-way traffic or wrong side of the road: 1,060 (2 percent)
- Making improper turns: 368 (0.7 percent)
III also reported 913 sideswipe collisions, representing 2.7 percent of total crashes.
In just one year, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) reported:
- Disregarding other road markings caused one fatal crash, three incapacitating injuries, 34 non-incapacitating injuries, 75 possible injuries, and 453 cases of no injuries.
- Disregarding other traffic signs caused six fatal crashes, 19 incapacitating injuries, 91 non-incapacitating injuries, 246 possible injuries, and 797 cases of no injuries.
- Driving too fast for conditions caused 61 fatal crashes, 328 incapacitating injuries, 1,319 non-incapacitating injuries, 2,570 possible injuries, and 9,691 cases of no injuries.
- Exceeding the posted speed limit caused 137 fatal crashes, 194 incapacitating injuries, 422 non-incapacitating injuries, 486 possible injuries, and 1,302 cases of no injuries.
- Failing to stay in the proper lane causes 256 fatal crashes, 856 incapacitating injuries, 2,276 non-incapacitating injuries, 4,196 possible injuries, and 23,709 cases of no injuries.
- Failing to yield the right of way causes 406 fatal crashes, 2,800 incapacitating injuries, 12,912 non-incapacitating injuries, 24,464 possible injuries, and 83,978 cases of no injuries.
- Following too closely caused six fatal crashes, 228 incapacitating injuries, 2,589 non-incapacitating injuries, 10,275 possible injuries, and 40,107 cases of no injuries.
- Improper backing causes six fatal crashes, 76 incapacitating injuries, 467 non-incapacitating injuries, 1,424 possible injuries, and 16,854 cases of no injuries.
- Improper passing caused 55 fatal crashes, 150 incapacitating injuries, 435 non-incapacitating injuries, 955 possible injuries, and 6,835 cases of no injuries.
- Improper turns caused 32 fatal crashes, 265 incapacitating injuries, 1,191 non-incapacitating injuries, 2,683 possible injuries, and 12,831 cases of no injuries.
- Operating a motor vehicle negligently caused 726 fatal crashes, 4,837 incapacitating injuries, 20,035 non-incapacitating injuries, 46,741 possible injuries, and 183,022 cases of no injuries.
- Operating a motor vehicle in an erratic, reckless, or aggressive manner caused 101 fatal crashes, 282 incapacitating injuries, 650 non-incapacitating injuries, 910 possible injuries, and 3,175 cases of no injuries.
- Overcorrecting or oversteering caused 21 fatal crashes, 79 incapacitating injuries, 344 non-incapacitating injuries, 467 possible injuries, and 2,059 cases of no injuries
- Running a red light caused 89 fatal crashes, 782 incapacitating injuries, 3,411 non-incapacitating injuries, 7,001 possible injuries, and 18,510 cases of no injuries.
- Running stop signs caused 76 fatal crashes, 419 incapacitating injuries, 1,790 non-incapacitating injuries, 3,501 possible injuries, and 10,951 cases of no injuries.
- Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surfaces, motor vehicles, objects, or non-motorists in the roadway causes 20 fatal crashes, 122 incapacitating injuries, 689 non-incapacitating injuries, 1,175 possible injuries, and 4,464 cases of no injuries.
- Wrong side or wrong way incidents caused 115 fatal crashes, 245 incapacitating injuries, 409 non-incapacitating injuries, 595 possible injuries, and 1,846 cases of no injuries.
Reducing Sideswipe Collision Risks
Drivers can 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 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 accidents in particular include:
- Signaling lane changes. By signaling a lane change, you tell other drivers your intentions and give 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.
- Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs. Drugs and alcohol impair a person’s judgment and slow response times while driving, so any driver who is operating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can leave their lane or misjudge the distance between vehicles.
- Aggressive driving. Several aggressive driving behaviors, including illegal passing, speeding, running another driver off the road, or cutting other vehicles off, can cause sideswipe collisions.
Other common situations that can lead to sideswipe collisions include drivers of high-clearance vehicles, such as commercial trucks, failing to properly check their blind spots during lane changes. Improper turns can be another common cause when roads have more than one turn lane, and two vehicles turn simultaneously because one vehicle can misjudge the distance, turn too tightly or too wide, and cause a sideswipe collision.
In other cases, drivers might try to cut in front of another vehicle or misjudge the distance between the two cars. Some people fail to move over when it is necessary, and a driver who is going past an accident or emergency vehicle on the side of the roadway and does not move one lane over can sideswipe other vehicles on the side of the road.
Narrow one-lane roads or one-way streets with parallel-parked vehicles can see many sideswipe collisions. Weather can also contribute when a driver goes too fast in rainy or winter conditions.
Recently, 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 can prevent hundreds of thousands of sideswipe collisions, tens of thousands of injuries, and hundreds (and possibly thousands) of deaths every year.
And yet, despite the major impact of these technologies, the brief also notes that in the aggregate, their maximum benefit at least for now will still prevent slightly less than one-third of annual traffic deaths in the United States. This is why the safe-driving strategies above remain critical to keeping yourself, your passengers, and other drivers safe.
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.
Contact an experienced car accident attorney is a smart way to protect yourself and your rights.