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How Dangerous Are Sideswipe Collisions in San Diego?

by John Gomez | Last Updated: August 31, 2021

San Diego Car Wreck LawyerAuto accidents: head-on or rear-end collisions, T-bones. These come to mind when thinking about traffic accidents. Sideswipe collisions, on the other hand, are often associated with the latest action movie when a police car or criminal chases another vehicle and tries to run it off the road. Many don’t realize they are a more common occurrence (although in less dramatic circumstances).

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sideswipe collisions make up almost three percent of fatal traffic accidents in the United States. Many of these collisions occur in high-traffic areas, such as San Diego. While sideswipes can also be minor events, many can lead to severe injuries that require immediate treatment and sometimes surgery and hospitalization.

If you have sustained injuries in a San Diego sideswipe collision, it’s best to discuss your case with an experienced auto accident attorney to learn about your legal options. Until you meet with a car accident lawyer, read below for information about San Diego sideswipe collisions, including common causes and injuries, and steps to take after a sideswipe accident.

Defining Sideswipe Collision

Sideswipe collisions are crashes between two vehicles where the impact occurs between the sides of each vehicle. This distinguishes them from T-bone or angle collisions, which include the front of at least one vehicle. Vehicles can make a forceful impact in a direct sideswipe, or more subtle contact may only scrape both vehicles.

A sideswipe collision can occur when both vehicles are traveling or when one vehicle is in motion and the other is stopped. Sideswipe collisions can also occur whether vehicles are traveling side-by-side in the same direction or traveling in opposite directions.

Another characteristic of sideswipe collisions compared to other types of traffic accidents is that the force upon impact is typically less. This could explain why many do not immediately think of sideswipe collisions as dangerous and deadly. After all, in the movies, characters often sideswipe one another many times without any real consequences. However, sideswipes can be just as deadly as other types of accidents, even though they are not always as forceful at initial impact.

The front and rear of a vehicle provide more protection to drivers and occupants. The sides of a vehicle do not offer the same protection during an accident, and not all vehicles have side airbags to protect those nearest to the point of impact of a sideswipe collision. Additionally, sideswipe accidents often cause injury not upon initial impact, but after the initial impact causes a driver to lose control and collide into something else.

Common Causes of San Diego Sideswipe Collisions

For many decades, studies about traffic accidents in the United States have concluded that driver error causes more than 90 percent of all car accidents. The most recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 93 percent of traffic accidents occurred because of driver error. Driver error includes sideswipe collisions.

Sideswipes can happen anywhere, but they most often occur at an intersection or on a freeway or interstate. San Diego has no shortage of intersections, many highways and freeways, and Interstates 5 and 405. Some common causes of sideswipe accidents in San Diego include:

Distracted Driving

Any activity that causes a driver to take their hands away from the wheel, their eyes off the road, or their mind away from driving can lead to a sideswipe collision. Distracted drivers can easily swerve into other lanes or fail to mind their blind spots when changing lanes, unintentionally sideswiping the vehicle next to them. Common distractions include cell phones, navigation systems, radio, eating or drinking, reaching for dropped items, arguing with occupants, personal grooming, or daydreaming.

Drunk Driving

Like other major metros, San Diego has no shortage of restaurants, bars, clubs, and other nightlife attractions. Those who do not plan for a designated driver or use a rideshare app sometimes get behind the wheel while intoxicated. Alcohol impairs a driver’s ability to judge space and distance. It also makes it difficult to control a vehicle and keep it in the proper lane. Whether swerving or making an improper turn, drunk drivers can cause sideswipe accidents as their impaired state renders them unable to maintain control of their vehicles.

Fatigued Driving

Drivers with demanding schedules, sometimes including more than one job, do not always get the sleep they need. Many have busy lives that keep them going all day long; those who do not get enough rest are at risk of becoming fatigued or falling asleep behind the wheel. Even someone who nods off for a few seconds can swerve into another lane and cause a sideswipe accident.

In fact, research shows that people who go 20 hours without sleep suffer an equivalent level of impairment to someone who has a 0.08 percent breath alcohol level, the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle. Truck drivers, late-night shift workers, and those with untreated sleep disorders are particularly susceptible to fatigued driving.

Aggressive Driving

Sideswipe collisions are often the result of aggressive driving, such as weaving in and out of traffic, illegal passing, cutting off other vehicles, and speeding. Aggressive drivers who speed not only put others at risk for a sideswipe accident, but the increased force of impact from their speeding can run vehicles off the road. Running a vehicle off the road can lead to fatal injuries, especially if the vehicle rolls or crashes down into a steep embankment.

San Diego Sideswipe Collisions Can Lead to Severe Injuries

The injuries that drivers and occupants sustain in a San Diego sideswipe collision vary, based on the size of the vehicles involved, the speed at which they were traveling, and where someone was seated in a vehicle in relation to the point of impact. The most severe injuries often occur when a truck or large vehicle collides with a smaller vehicle or when one or both vehicles are traveling at high speed. Those seated on the side of the vehicle where the sideswipe occurs often suffer the most severe injuries.

Fractures and Orthopedic Injuries

Some broken bones heal quickly, and accident victims make a full recovery. Others are complex fractures that include more than one broken bone in an area or multiple breaks in the same bone. These orthopedic injuries may require reconstructive surgery, including plates, screws, and other orthopedic hardware. Victims need ample time for recovery and might have lifelong complications due to serious fractures.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

The impact of a sideswipe collision can directly or indirectly cause head trauma that leads to a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Even the most minor concussions can cause headaches and long-term complications. Those who suffer from TBI struggle with cognitive functions, motor function, and regulation of their emotions and behavior, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Neck Injuries

Neck injuries are common in car accidents, especially soft tissue injuries, such as whiplash. Forceful sideswipe accidents can lead to far worse injuries than a mild instance of whiplash. The forceful back-and-forth motion of the neck during the impact of the crash can cause a broken neck, herniated cervical discs, and other serious injuries that victims must learn to cope with for life.

Back Injuries

The impact of a sideswipe collision can cause bodies to move in unnatural ways, sometimes leading to painful back injuries. Depending on the severity of the crash, victims could sustain fractured vertebrae or suffer from bulged or slipped discs. Back injuries often make life difficult for victims. Back pain can be severe and chronic, and ongoing surgeries might be necessary. Even after surgery, people often need to follow a pain management regimen for the rest of their lives.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries occur in the neck and the back, but they deserve special treatment because of their seriousness. The brain, the spinal cord, and all the nerves throughout the human body make up the central nervous system. Spinal cord injuries disrupt messages from the brain to other areas in the body, causing temporary or permanent paralysis. The closer the injury is to the brain, the more loss of function a victim tends to suffer.

Internal Injuries

Those seated directly at the point of impact of a sideswipe collision may suffer internal injuries. The impact of the collision can lead to broken ribs, internal bleeding, or organ damage. Left untreated, some internal injuries can lead to death. Internal injuries are also concerning because they often go unnoticed at first. Sometimes car accident victims only feel a little soreness or notice a small bruise, but these can indicate something much worse. A physician should check out anyone involved in a San Diego sideswipe collision as soon as possible to make sure they haven’t suffered any such injuries.


Sometimes, the force of a sideswipe collision pins people under seats or between vehicles, causing crushed limbs. When someone loses blood flow to a limb during an accident, doctors do their best to restore blood flow and save the limb. However, an infection may set in, begin to spread throughout the body, and it cannot restore blood flow. The only option in such a case is to amputate the crushed limb, leaving a victim with a lifetime of struggles, such as phantom limb pain and the frustration of learning how to live with a prosthetic device.

Determining Liability in a San Diego Sideswipe Collision

Safely operating a motor vehicle requires that drivers stay in their own lanes. When changing lanes, drivers need to check blind spots, look in their mirrors, and use their turn signals. In most sideswipe accident cases, the liability falls on the driver who did not maintain their lane and sideswiped the other vehicle. One exception is when two vehicles simultaneously enter a lane.

To prove liability in a San Diego sideswipe accident case you must show another party’s wrongdoing, which is typically negligence, caused the accident and your injuries.

Negligence has four elements:

  • Duty of Care. All drivers on the road have a legal obligation to those they share the road with to operate their vehicles safely and legally.
  • Breach of Duty. A driver breaches their duty when they operate unsafely or illegally, such as by driving drunk, becoming distracted, or falling asleep while driving.
  • Causation. This is often the most contested part of a negligence claim. The plaintiff must prove that the driver’s breach of duty caused their injuries. For example, a drunk driver lost control and sideswiped you, causing injuries. The driver breached their duty towards others on the road when they got behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. Had they not been drunk, they would have been able to maintain control of their vehicle, and the accident would not have occurred.
  • Harm. You must have suffered significant harm from the breach of duty. Harm refers to physical injuries as well as other losses stemming from the accident. The extent of this harm serves as the basis for how much you can recover.

Recovering Damages After a San Diego Sideswipe Collision

After suffering injuries in a San Diego sideswipe collision, California law permits you to seek compensation for damages from the at-fault driver who caused the accident.

With the help of an experienced car accident attorney, you can prove that the other driver is liable for damages and prevail in your claim, and potentially receive compensation for:

  • Past and future medical costs, such as ambulance service, emergency room treatment, hospitalization, surgery, aftercare, diagnostic scans, lab tests, prescriptions, and travel to and from the doctor/hospital
  • Rehabilitation expenses, including any necessary specialized treatment to help adjust to permanent injuries, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and mental health services
  • Current and future lost wages, for sideswipe accident victims who suffer catastrophic injuries and cannot return to their job or seek future employment
  • Non-medical expenses to help pay for things a victim can no longer do, such as lawn care, cleaning, taking care of a pet, childcare, and cooking
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Quality of life impacts
  • Loss of consortium
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