You’re driving along when suddenly, a motorist merges into your lane and sideswipes your car. The impact is often brief but the damage can be significant. Although you didn’t see the other car coming, you may wonder what you could have done differently.

Lane changes play a big role in car accident statistics: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these incidents account for nine percent of all crashes.

A driver, perhaps speeding or distracted, travels over the line and collides with another car. In many of these cases, responsibility is clear. The motorist changing lanes had a duty to drive without distractions, obey the speed limit, use their turn signal and wait until there was enough space to enter your lane. Yet, he or she did not acknowledge the other vehicle and moved right into the driver’s blind spot.

In other cases, especially when lanes merge, responsibility and fault may be less defined and more factors come into play. Have you found yourself in such an incident? Here’s what you should know.

Establishing Responsibility

In a typical lane-change accident, a driver moves from one lane to another without acknowledging the surrounding cars. Due to the following factors, these individuals are nearly always at fault:

  • Did not have the right of way.
  • Failed to wait until the lane was clear enough to change.
  • Did not use their turn signal or check their mirrors.
  • In packed or slowly moving traffic, they failed to account for the amount of space between vehicles and attempted to merge regardless.
  • They were unalert, due to distracted driving or driver fatigue.
  • Behaved recklessly behind the wheel, including alcohol, drug use or talking on a cell phone.
  • They attempted a lane change in poor weather conditions and hit an oncoming car.

Based on the rules of the road, responsibility falls on the driver changing lanes to look out for vehicles and take care before making a maneuver. In this scenario, the driver is expected to wait until enough room exists to merge. They should signal to other motorists they plan to make this move, rather than catch other drivers off guard.

These factors can shape the direction of your claim if a motorist attempting to change lanes hit your vehicle. You may be asked:

  • Who had the right-of-way. Although the driver changing lanes bears part of the responsibility, an inattentive driver who didn’t notice or respond quick enough may also be found partially at fault. If a driver forces themselves into your lane, you’re expected to slow down to reduce the incidence of a collision.
  • If you noticed the driver use their turn signal.
  • Yielding – especially at some intersections and junctures, you’re expected to slow down for other cars to merge. As you’re entering a highway or roadway, you proceed at an opening, rather than speed out blindly into the road.
  • If and when you saw the other vehicle. As blind spots compose roughly 40 percent of a car’s exterior, it’s possible you might not have seen the driver changing lanes – and chances are, they might not have seen you either.

Other Scenarios

Lane-change accidents aren’t always so cut-and-dry. Several factors can muddle or complicate a case:

  • Speeding, with drivers swerving between lanes or lacking time to stop when another vehicle attempts to merge.
  • Distracted behaviors like texting, talking on the phone, tuning the radio, eating or using a GPS, causing a motorist to drift over the line.
  • Tailgating and behaving aggressively toward other motorists on the road.
  • Drunk or drowsy driving, causing a motorist to cross one or more lanes.
  • Inattentiveness, causing a driver to forget their turn signal.
  • Blocking another motorist from merging or changing lanes, often doing so in a reckless manner. This driver may speed up or intentionally stay to the side of a particular motorist.
  • Driving without headlights at night, decreasing a driver’s visibility to other motorists, who didn’t see them until it was too late.

Along with these aspects, merging lanes brings in other outside factors. Cars may merge due to changing traffic patterns – i.e. an accident – or to enter a highway. When speeding is involved, a driver might not have enough time to brake as another car enters, resulting in a rear-end collision. Lane-change accidents from merging often end up as sideswipe incidents, in which both drivers bear some of the responsibility.

How can two drivers be at fault?

  • They both misjudged the space available to merge onto the highway and the speed at which the other was traveling.
  • One driver traveled too fast and the other failed to slow down.
  • The driver entering the highway did not adequately signal and the other motorist continued to drive at full speed, rather than slow down.

As a result of these scenarios, a driver ends up merging onto the road but hits another motorist from the side, who didn’t slow down. However, the driver who crosses over the line in a sideswipe incident tends to shoulder a larger portion of responsibility.

Understand that not all lane-change accidents are created equal. Highway driving involves high speeds – and subsequently greater damage. On local roadways, additional property damage may result, in addition to injury for both parties.
Was your vehicle hit as another driver attempted to change lanes? If you’re recovering from a life-changing accident, with bills piling up due to time off work, Trantolo & Trantolo’s car accident lawyers are here to help. To learn more, give us a call today.