Car crashes are so common that most of us have been in one at some point in our lives. We may pass them on the side of the road or interstate without thinking much about them. In the years since I became an attorney, though, I’ve come to think of car accidents a bit differently. Below are 6 different types of car accidents and what I’ve learned about each one as a car crash attorney.
A car accident involving just one vehicle can be caused by any of the following:
a driver falling asleep at the wheel
an object or animal in the road
In most of these accidents, the driver is held responsible. However, there are 3 main exceptions. You aren’t legally responsible for your accident if it was caused by:
a defective mechanical part
inferior mechanical work
a dangerous roadway
Said simply, if a drunk or distracted driver came into your lane, and you had to go off the road to avoid them, the other driver is responsible for your accident even though their car didn’t actually impact yours. If your brakes failed and the pads were found to be faulty, the manufacturer is responsible for the accident. If well-made brake pads were installed incorrectly, the person who installed them is responsible. And finally, if the roadway where your accident occurred is dangerous because of improper signage or a large pothole, the state or city responsible for maintaining the roadway is at fault.
Low-speed crash (fender bender)
Most car crashes occur at low speeds, often while in parking lots or pulling out of driveways. Although fatalities in car crashes sharply increased between 2020 and 2021 and have held steady since then, most fatalities occur at typical driving speed or interstate speeds. Even though fender benders aren’t usually life-threatening, they can be very damaging both to a person’s vehicle and health. Low-speed crashes where no one appears to be injured are often cleaned up very quickly, before adrenaline wears off and injuries present themselves. Slipped discs, nerve pain, and even minor spinal injuries like whiplash can occur in low speed collisions.
When the back of one car impacts the front of another, as when a driver in stop-and-go traffic becomes distracted and fails to stop, it’s known as a rear-end collision. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that rear-end collisions account for almost a third of all car crashes in the US. When rear-end collisions occur in increment weather such a fog or heavy snow or rain, the resulting pileup can be deadly. The two most common rear-end collisions I see as a lawyer are when a vehicle fails to stop at a light and rear-ends another vehicle and when a vehicle fails to stop when the car in front of them is slowing down to turn, either left or right.
Sideswipe accidents occur when two vehicles collide or scrape along their sides. They often occur when a driver doesn’t look before switching lanes or drifts out of their lane, which is why newer vehicles often have lane assist safety features. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates 242,000 sideswipe accidents occur each year. The impact or a driver jerking the wheel in response to the sideswipe can force a car off the road, into yet another car, or into a guardrail. I’ve also seen vehicles roll as the result of sideswipe collisions. However, sideswipe accidents can be relatively minor, with some deep scratches to each car door and no injuries.
Side-impact accident (T-bone)
When the front of a vehicle impacts the side of another, we say one car has T-boned another. These types of crashes usually occur while one vehicle is turning in front of the other or when a vehicle runs a stop sign or red light, hitting a car already moving through the intersection. Because of where the impact occurs, these accidents are especially dangerous for the people in the vehicle that was hit. There isn’t a lot of metal in car doors and not a lot of space between anyone sitting on that side of the vehicle and the impacting vehicle. Who is responsible for the accident depends on who had the right of way and if any laws were broken, as when a car fails to stop at a red light. As an attorney, most T-bone accidents that I see occur because of distracted driving or simple impatience. An estimated 8000 people die of side-impact crashes each year (NHTSA).
In my experience both as an emergency room nurse and a car crash attorney, head-on collisions are the most dangerous types of car crashes and their effects are often the most severe. Even at relatively low speeds, because the heaviest part of both vehicles (the engines) impact each other directly, the force of all that momentum suddenly stopping causes significant damage to both the vehicles and the people in them. The vehicles are almost always totaled. While some people walk away from head-on crashes with no injuries at all, others suffer traumatic spinal or brain injuries, are thrown from the vehicle, suffer crushed limbs, or even die. These accidents are often caused by speeding, distracting driving, and drunk driving. Seatbelts and speed often determine whether the people in head-on collisions live or die.