I was nearly in a car accident this morning. There is a spot in Sacramento where people coming off the freeway exit onto a one-way street with a blind curve just behind it. There are people taking that curve at 60 mph who need to get over to the left just as there are people coming off the freeway at 60 mph who need to get over to the right. As you can imagine, it can be a harrowing experience.

This morning my driver was changing lanes to the right when a BMW came out of nowhere changing lanes to the left. We were within inches of a collision. Both drivers noticed each other last minute and there was no contact, but it was a scary thing.

So who was at fault? This type of accident is called a sideswipe. It happens when the side of a car hits the side of another car. They are very difficult to prove liability unless you have an independent witness who can say which vehicle was going straight and which one was moving from their lane.

In this instance, since both my driver and the BMW’s driver were changing lanes, it would be considered a 50/50 collision. Half her fault and half the BMW’s fault.

Most sideswipes happen when lanes end and cars have to merge to the left. If that happens, it is usually the car who is losing the lane who is at fault. We hope that the people in the through lane are being kind and letting people in, but that doesn’t always happen and if you are the one changing lanes it is your job to not make the maneuver unless it is safe.

Here are some tips on merging:

  1. Try to match the speed of the through lane.
  2. Don’t try to squeeze into a gap that is too small.
  3. Turn your head to look behind you quickly before changing lanes.
  4. Signal your intent to change lanes.
  5. Leave a large space in front of you.
  6. Never “punish” late-merging drivers by closing your gap.


The Federal Highway Administration actually recommends late-merging at the last minute because it is a more efficient use of the roadways, having two lanes filled instead of just one. But that system works best if people leave large gaps between the cars for the merge to take place at the speed of traffic. Makes sense right? You can see an animated example here: http://trafficwaves.org/seatraf.html

If you’ve been in a sideswipe collision and you think it wasn’t your fault, it doesn’t hurt to get a professional opinion from an attorney. The Law Offices of Alan Laskin have successfully fought for clients that the insurance companies tried to blame.

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