Sideswipe Collisions: Deceptively Dangerous

January 5, 2023
Sideswipe Collisions: Deceptively Dangerous

Understanding Sideswipe Collisions

If you've been injured in a sideswipe collision, you understand that it can be more complicated than two vehicles scraping against one another. Sideswipe accidents are sometimes far more serious than that. As with all accidents, they occur suddenly and they take you by surprise. The resulting damages and injuries can cause minor inconveniences or major life changes. You must hold the responsible parties accountable for the damages they cause.

A sideswipe is especially damaging when the crash brings together a smaller vehicle and a larger, higher-stature vehicle with a heavy protruding bumper. These and other features protect Sport Utility Vehicle passengers and light-duty truck passengers during accidents but they cause excessive injuries to occupants in private passenger cars. A swiping vehicle's size, speed, and impact determine the struck vehicle occupants' risk for serious and catastrophic injuries. Injuries increase significantly when a tractor-trailer driver or a heavy commercial equipment operator causes damage.

What Causes Sideswipe Accidents?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that human error was a primary factor in 94 percent of all motor vehicle accidents. These statistics document accident-triggering behaviors such as distraction, alcohol use, drug impairment, speeding, and drowsy driving. It's no different with sideswipe collisions. Sideswipes occur when one vehicle operator makes a mistake and collides with the side of another vehicle. With a sideswipe, the human driving error often occurs during an attempted lane change.

The NHTSA studied commuting vehicles for the research described in Analysis of Lane Change Crashes and Near Crashes. They found that sideswipes often involved a driver's failure to look in front of him, look in the rearview mirror, or compensate for a blind spot. Sideswipe events occur between vehicles moving in the same direction and traveling in parallel lanes but also under other circumstances.

  • Oncoming vehicles cause sideswipe accidents after near-miss, head-on collisions.
  • Drivers sideswipe other vehicles at intersections while attempting to navigate a turn.
  • Sideswipes occur during a driver's attempt to avoid a “forward threat” that could cause a crash.
  • Drivers sideswipe parked, occupied and unoccupied vehicles before the parked vehicle enters the stream of traffic.
  • Drivers cause side-swipe events after misjudging the available maneuvering space or attempting to cut in front of another vehicle.

Some Sideswipe Accidents Cause Extensive Damage and Injuries

As sideswipes often involve grazing or glancing blows between vehicles, it seems reasonable that damage and injuries would be minimal. The reality is usually far more complicated. When a driver immediately recognizes and corrects a lane change error, the sideswipe is often nothing more than a glancing blow. Depending on the vehicles and the circumstances involved, sideswipe collisions cause extensive damage and serious injuries.

  • Vehicle mismatch: When an SUV, a large truck, or other heavy vehicle sideswipes a small car, it causes significant damage and the occupants sustain far more serious injuries. The mismatch often allows the larger vehicle's extended bumper or reinforced metal sides to connect with a smaller vehicle's side glass and lesser-reinforced upper areas.
  • Tractor-trailer side underride: Side Underride sometimes occurs when the side of a tractor-trailer rig connects with the side of a small vehicle. When the trailer's bottom edge is higher than the smaller vehicle, it allows the smaller vehicle or a portion of its body to roll beneath the trailer's side. Underride often causes upper vehicle damage and passenger compartment intrusion which seriously injures vehicle occupants.
  • Full side engagement: When an oncoming vehicle avoids a front end crash, sometimes the resulting sideswipe begins at the side front of a car and causes heavy damage along the entire side
  • Speeding: In 2017, 299 of Florida's 3,112 of auto accident fatalities were speed-related. NHTSA's 2017 statistics show that speeding caused 26 percent of auto accident fatalities nationwide. A speeding vehicle causes more damage and injuries during a side-swipe collision as speed produces a more forceful impact than a vehicle traveling at a slower speed.

Vehicle Safety Enhancements Don't Always Prevent Serious Injuries

When the IIHS began conducting side-impact tests in 2003, they improved on NHTSA's existing side crash testing system. At that time, only one out of five vehicles rated high for side-impact safety. Since IIHS began side crashworthiness testing, manufacturers have consistently upgraded their designs. Many new private passenger vehicles have features that help save passengers' lives.

Vehicle designs include side reinforcements and stronger passenger compartments. These improvements help vehicles withstand crashes and protect vulnerable occupants. They include features based on a child's age, height and weight. Seat belts and front and side airbags protect vehicle occupants' upper body and head. Some vehicles have optional side airbag curtains for full-body protection. Parents also have child safety seat options.

When a car sustains serious sideswipe damage, these safety measures minimize injuries. They reduce passenger contact with shattered glass, distorted metal, and intruding components but they can't prevent injuries completely. Inside a vehicle, there is a minimal space cushion between an outside impact and the people inside the car. During a side-swipe accident, occupants are close enough to the exterior to absorb some of the impact.

When an accident involves mismatched vehicles, the smaller vehicle's occupants remain vulnerable to serious head and upper body trauma. The vehicle's glass components, upper passenger compartment, roof, and child safety protections can't hold up to a larger vehicle's weight, reinforced sides, and higher, bigger bumper.

Lane Assist Technology Doesn't Help as Much as You Think

National safety agencies applaud recent advancements in vehicle automation and driver assistance technologies. As they become more common, they will help mitigate the 94 percent human accident factor that contributes to sideswipe accidents. Unfortunately, human error will remain an issue on Florida Highways and across the country.

Lane assistance technology alerts drivers when they leave their travel lanes. Lane-Keeping Assist corrects lane issues with automatic braking and steering. The automated intervention gives a driver time to regain control and prevent an accident. Warning and assistive technologies can potentially reduce sideswipes, frontal crashes, and rollovers caused by inappropriate lane changes but they can't eliminate them completely.

IIHS research determined that lane assistance technologies are limited in their ability to prevent accidents. Working with statistics generated by a 2008 NHTSA Crash Causation Survey, IIHS concluded that 34 percent of the drivers who caused lane changing accidents lost control as they were falling asleep. Others had a medical issue, an 0.08 percent BAC, or some other condition that rendered them unresponsive and unaware.

Active Lane Assistance technology would not work for these drivers. Although automated assistance could prevent an initial crash, incapacitated drivers wouldn't have the awareness or the time to resume control. They might cause an accident anyway. The study recommended enhancing lane-keeping assistance with systems that tracked certain drivers and got them off the road.

What Happens When a Large Truck Sideswipes a Small Vehicle

When a large truck is involved in any type of accident, the potential for damage and injury increases. During a sideswipe event, a large truck's gross vehicle weight and speed often transform a glancing blow into a forceful impact capable of causing serious harm. Underride is an additional factor in large truck side-impact accidents. When a car is low enough to roll beneath a truck during an accident, the motion can easily destroy the car and seriously, catastrophically, or fatally injure the occupants.

Underride guards help prevent the side underride problem during sideswipes and other side-impact crashes. IIHS side-crash tests demonstrate that trailers with side guards have the potential for real-world crash injury reduction. Federal Transportation Code, 49 CFR §571.224, requires rear impact protection for trailers or semi-trailers with a gross vehicle weight rating of 4,356 kg. Although research proves that side underride guards also save lives, there is currently no statutory requirement for trailer side protection.

Pending legislation may change this safety inequity. In March 2019, a bipartisan group of senators reintroduced a bill entitled the Stop Underrides Act. The bill failed when previously introduced in 2017. If passed into law, it would require that all tractor-trailer owners install side, front, and rear guards.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes the underride bill. They believe the enhanced safety requirements would create a financial hardship for truckers and cause vehicle navigation issues. Whether mandatory or not, trailer owners are aware that this safety enhancement reduces injuries. If trailer owners refuse to meet a tested safety standard designed to mitigate damage and injuries, their actions could constitute gross negligence if they cause an underride accident.

What Type of Injuries do Sideswipe Accidents Cause?

Not all sideswipe collisions cause serious injuries. The injury potential varies depending on the vehicles involved and the accident circumstances. Mismatched vehicles cause variations in injury location and severity. A study published by Science Direct from the September 2004 issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention documents the relationship of higher, heavier vehicles to injury severity. While a sideswipe accident can cause a variety of injuries, head and upper thorax damage are the most frequent medical problems from side-impact accidents involving mismatched vehicles.

Severe head trauma often causes traumatic brain injuries that require lifelong treatment and rehabilitation. Serious brain injuries leave injured victims with permanent impairments, lost income opportunities, and serious family and lifestyle changes.

Upper thoracic trauma causes damage to the skeletal system and internal organs. These serious injuries sometimes include spinal cord damage. People with spinal cord injuries often endure full or partial paralysis. They lose sensation and bodily functions in areas at and below the point where the damage is located on their spine.

Who Pays Your Medical Bills and Lost Income?

Florida's No-Fault Law, §627.737 requires that all registered vehicles have Personal Injury Protection coverage on their auto insurance policies. When you're injured in an accident, your insurance company pays 80 percent of your medical bills and 60 percent of your lost income regardless of who is at fault. Your insurer also pays expenses for accident-related replacement services.

No-Fault benefits are designed to reduce claims and lawsuits against negligent drivers. You have a legal right to sue the responsible party for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other general damages if your injuries meet one of the tort exceptions outlined in §627.737. These include:

  • Significant, permanent loss of an important bodily function.
  • Permanent injury, other than scarring or disfigurement.
  • Significant, permanent scarring or disfigurement.
  • Death

If you or your loved one sustain injuries that meet one of these thresholds, you may sue the person or persons who caused or contributed to your injuries.

Dealing With Insurance Company Investigations

When you sustain injuries in a sideswipe event or any auto accident, you must deal with insurance company representatives. Your auto insurance policy requires that you turn in any potentially covered claims, so you have no choice. You must contact your auto insurance company to make a claim for your PIP benefits and report any claims that may involve your liability coverage. Your insurance company owes PIP benefits regardless of fault but they may still ask for your recorded statement to better understand your version of the events and to confirm your injuries.

If your injuries don't immediately meet any of the above tort exemption categories, the other driver's insurance company may or may not contact you. If your injuries clearly meet a tort exemption, they may request your recorded statement to help them resolve their liability concerns. They will also ask for injury documentation to help determine your injury claim's value.

While your insurance company requires cooperation, you have no such requirement with a negligent driver's insurance company. Either way, you should consider hiring an automobile accident lawyer to intervene with both insurance carriers on your behalf.

Do You Really Need an Attorney?

It's a good idea to consult with a personal injury lawyer who can help you understand the issues involved. From the moment another driver sideswipes your car, an auto accident can become one of the most stressful events in your life. Liability and injury issues further complicate the circumstances. It's important to connect with an attorney as soon as possible. Legal representation is especially critical if you or a loved one sustained serious accident-related injuries.

A personal injury attorney listens to you, discusses your injuries and determines if his law firm can help you resolve your injury claim. Attorneys explain insurance coverage issues and help you manage claim department interactions to minimize coverage and liability complications.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765

(727) 451-6900

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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