Understanding Broadside Collision Car Accidents
Broadside collisions, also known as T-bone or angular collisions, happen when the front of one vehicle collides with the side of another. These are particularly dangerous accidents because they subject the occupants of the vehicle hit on its side to impact forces which neither their vehicles nor their bodies are equipped to withstand. The occupants of a car that sustains a frontal impact have a large “crumple zone,” frontal airbags, and safety belts to keep them relatively safe in a collision. But occupants of the car hit from the side have just a few thin layers of metal to protect them.
At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we believe in doing our part to help reduce the number of broadside collisions on Florida roads. Accident prevention starts with education. In this blog post, then, we delve deeper into how and where broadside collisions happen, and the factors that increase the probability that they will happen. We offer this information so that Florida drivers can protect themselves from falling victim to broadside collisions. Many of the facts we cite and observations we make below come from the Federal Highway Safety Administration’s (FHSA) comprehensive collection of information and research on intersection safety.
Short Answer: Intersections are the Setting of Broadside Collisions
Broadside collisions involve vehicles traveling perpendicular to one another. That is why they’re often called T-bone accidents: one vehicle crosses the path of the other such that the collision resembles the shape of the letter T.
Where do vehicles cross each other’s paths most often? At intersections, of course. If you take only one thing away from this post, it should be that drivers (and passengers, and bikers, and pedestrians) should exercise extreme caution at intersections. They are the most inherently dangerous places on our nation’s roads. What makes intersections so dangerous? Let’s break it down.
“Planned Points of Conflict”
The FHSA refers to intersections as “planned points of conflict in any roadway system” where drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists all come together. They are “one of the most complex traffic situations that people encounter” when using the road. Thus, “understanding how drivers and all roadway users interact within an intersection environment is fundamental to improving roadway safety and saving lives.”
According to the FHSA, “over the last several years an average of one-quarter of traffic fatalities and roughly half of all traffic injuries are attributed to intersections.” That makes intersections a critical target of safety concerns. FHSA research, albeit slightly dated, reflects that nearly half (47 percent) of all crashes at intersections are “angular” (a.k.a. broadside or T-bone) collisions. Far-and-away, broadside collisions are the most common form of crashes that occur at intersections.
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Managed by Signs and Signals
An intersection without any traffic control features like stop signs, stoplights, lane markings, etc. is extremely dangerous. This is obvious, and it’s why most intersections in Florida and around the country have some kind of signal to help regulate the flow of traffic.
Road designers and engineers spend a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of traffic control measures suit particular intersections. A constellation of factors comes into play. Road designers usually consider the following questions when designing an intersection:
- How heavily trafficked is the intersection, and is the traffic flow steady or variable?
- Where is the intersection? Is it rural or urban?
- What amount of pedestrian foot traffic crosses the intersection?
- How many lanes of road does the intersection encompass? Are they two roads equal in width, lanes, and traffic flow, or are they different sizes?
- How will different traffic control measures affect traffic flow?
- What is the probability that particular devices will cause confusion, frustration, or unpredictable driving behavior?
- Where can traffic control measures be placed and how visible will they be?
- How much do traffic control options cost in terms of installation, operation, and maintenance?
- What growth or change is anticipated in the area surrounding the intersection that might impact traffic flow?
As the factors above suggest, it’s not always obvious which traffic control device would work best at a particular intersection. Engineers sometimes get it wrong. Also, traffic patterns change over time as communities evolve and develop, such that the suitability of particular traffic control devices may also change. When traffic control features fail to match the need at an intersection, the risk of broadside collisions in the middle of the intersection rises.
Cars Are Navigated by Fallible Human Beings
Ultimately, what makes intersections truly dangerous is that humans in cars use them. An empty intersection doesn’t pose a danger to anyone. An intersection crowded with cars, bikes, and pedestrians does. The FHSA’s manual for road designers takes pains to emphasize the significant risk posed by the “human factor” at any intersection. “To successfully execute a vehicle maneuver through an intersection, the driver must receive and recognize available information, make a decision, and execute the desired action.” The problem, as the FHSA points out, is that humans fundamentally process pieces of information one at a time, and intersections present them with a large and complex body of information to absorb, understand, and respond to. If a human pays attention to the wrong piece of information at the wrong time in an intersection, the risk of an accident rises.
Think of driving up to an intersection. First, you need to know it’s coming up and recognize you have some action to perform when you get there—stopping, slowing down, looking both ways, etc. You also need a plan for which way you will go once you reach the intersection. Will you turn left or right, go straight, or make a U-turn? And you need to recognize the traffic signals and whether they tell you anything you need to know about when, where, or how to proceed through the intersection. When it’s your turn to move through the intersection, you need to assure yourself you have complied with the traffic control measures, and that the intersection will be clear of crossing traffic when you enter it.
Now, reorder those tasks in your mind. Imagine approaching an intersection and, because you are looking at the relevant traffic signs and lights, you don’t notice the cross traffic. Imagine you only decide which way you need to turn after you enter the intersection. Imagine you fail to see an upcoming intersection altogether by focusing only on the fact that you don’t have a turn coming up on your route. All of these mistakes happen. When they do, cars enter intersections in an unsafe, unpredictable manner that can lead to a collision with crossing traffic.
Left Turns Across Oncoming Traffic
We tend to think of broadside collisions happening when a car crossing an intersection collides with another car crossing the intersection at a right angle. That is mostly how they happen, it’s true, but not always.
Another common scenario is when one car is making a left-hand turn, and the other is proceeding straight through the intersection in the opposite direction. These types of accidents happen at intersections, but they also frequently occur on two-lane roads when a driver is turning left across oncoming traffic into, say, a parking lot.
The factors above that make intersections dangerous also apply to any kind of left-turn situation across traffic. Turning left creates a “conflict point” in the traffic pattern. Without appropriate lane markings or signals to position left-turning vehicles appropriately and to warn oncoming vehicles of the probability of cars crossing their paths, the accident risk rises. Likewise, turning left presents the left-turning driver with a host of data points to process quickly to properly execute the maneuver. If that driver fails to process that information in a safe sequence, an accident can happen.
In any driving scenario, certain factors will add to the risk of a broadside collision. Here is a summary of some of the most common factors that heighten collision risk.
Poor Visibility as a Broadside Collision Factor
Any intersection or left turn scenario is even more dangerous to navigate if drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians have difficulty seeing traffic control signals and each other. In the Sunshine State, glare creates an especially frequent problem. We live in a relatively flat state. In the morning and evening, the sun is low on the horizon and can shine directly into a driver’s eyes. This makes seeing cars coming from the sun’s direction extremely difficult, especially if the road surface also creates a glare. To add to risks, these are the times of day that Floridians commute to and from work, causing congestion at intersections, which also increases the chance of an accident. Rain, fog, and other weather phenomena can cause similar difficulties for drivers navigating intersections at any time of day.
To combat these factors, drivers should prepare for varied road conditions. In Florida especially, drivers should never get behind the wheel without having a pair of sunglasses handy, in anticipation of sun and road glare situations. Polarized sunglasses that minimize reflected light are best, as they reduce eye strain and help you spot objects against an extremely bright background. Keep an extra pair of sunglasses in your car for emergencies. Likewise, keep your wipers, headlights, and defogger in working order, and always take the extra minute to give your windshield, windows, and mirrors a quick wipe down when you stop for gas.
Speeding is a Broadside Collision Factor
According to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in its 2018 Highway Safety Plan:
The chances of dying in a crash doubles for every 10 miles per hour (mph) a car travels above 50 mph. Speeding reduces the time a driver has to react to a dangerous situation and increases the impact energy and risk of death in the event of a crash.
Speeding poses an extreme risk to everyone at an intersection, for obvious reasons. Intersections are places where drivers need to slow down or stop, pay attention to their surroundings, and obey signals. Remember what we said above about sequential processing. It’s already a challenge for the human brain to take in all of the relevant information in the correct order to navigate an intersection safely. Speeding shrinks the amount of time a driver has to perform those complex and critical tasks, increasing the risk the driver will accidentally collide with crossing traffic.
Driver Distraction a Broadside Collision Factor
Distracted driving happens whenever a driver loses focus on the act of driving and the road ahead. It can lead to broadside collisions because it reduces a driver’s ability to process the information at an intersection or when turning left.
Public campaigns to reduce distracted driving tend to focus on cell phone use, and for good reason. Human brains aren’t built to look at a screen and drive a car at the same time (much less do so at a “conflict point” like an intersection). But using a device isn’t the only way to drive distracted. Any task you perform behind the wheel that isn’t related to driving safely constitutes a distraction. That includes turning in your seat to talk to passengers, using a mirror to check your hair, or fiddling with radio preset buttons or a GPS.
Driver Impairment and Drowsiness a Broadside Collision Factor
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or without enough sleep (which has the same ill effects as driving drunk or high) also increases the risk of broadside collisions. Impaired and drowsy drivers have slower reaction times, often make poor decisions, and tend to drive erratically. Impaired drivers often fail to stop at intersections, speed through them, or don’t see crossing traffic before proceeding through an intersection or turning left across traffic.
Intersections and Left Turns = Danger for Broadsides
So, to recap, broadside collisions are extremely dangerous because of how vulnerable drivers and passengers in the broadsided cars are to injury. Broadside collisions happen most frequently at intersections, and also commonly occur when drivers turn left across oncoming traffic.
The best way to avoid a broadside collision is to use extreme caution at traffic “conflict points.” Slowing your car makes it easier to process information. Being prepared for poor visibility helps to ensure you will see and hear everything you need to consider before entering an intersection or turning left. And not driving distracted, drunk, high, or tired, helps keep everyone on the road safe from catastrophic accidents.
If you have questions about your rights after a broadside collision, contact a skilled car accident attorney near you.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Clearwater Office
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765
Phone: (727) 451-6900