Types of Car Accidents

August 9, 2023 | By Francis Firm Injury Attorneys
Types of Car Accidents

Car accidents take many forms. Some have a reputation for being serious. Others, less so. But regardless of popular perception, all car accidents hold the potential to inflict severe injuries, life disruptions, and financial losses. 

Here's a rundown of the various categories of car accidents, including their frequency, how they happen, the injuries they can inflict, and the role an experienced car accident lawyer plays in securing compensation for their victims. 

Rear-End Accidents

Any accident in which the front end of one vehicle collides with the rear of another qualifies as a rear-end crash. According to annual nationwide crash data published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end collisions are the most common form of car accident in the United States.

More than two million occur annually on U.S. roads, accounting for roughly one-third of all crashes. Their common causes include speeding, driving too fast for road conditions, and distracted driving — in other words, driving behaviors that result in the driver of a trailing vehicle failing to slow or stop in time to avoid a collision with a vehicle ahead. 

Many people think of rear-end accidents as relatively minor fender benders. But that's not always the case. While some rear-end collisions cause minimal damage, violent rear-end crashes can destroy vehicles and inflict catastrophic (even fatal) injuries.

According to NHTSA, 2,363 people died in rear-end accidents in one recent (pre-Covid) year, and another 595,231 sustained injuries. Neck, back, and spinal injuries are particularly common among occupants of vehicles struck from behind in rear-end accidents due to the sudden, rapid acceleration and deceleration forces involved. 

Side Impact Accidents 

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Side impact accidents, also known as angular, broadside, or T-bone collisions, occur when the front of one vehicle collides with the side of another. NHTSA data reflect that nearly one and a half million side impact accidents happened countrywide in a recent year.

They're especially common at intersections, parking lot entrances, and on two-lane roads with a middle-turning lane areas where vehicles are momentarily perpendicular to each other. Common causes of side impact accidents include the failure to yield a right of way, ignoring traffic signs or signals, and not looking both ways before turning or entering a traffic lane. 

Side impact accidents are among the most deadly and destructive car accidents. According to the NHTSA, they took the lives of more than 6,000 motorists' lives and injured an additional half million in a recent year.

The severe angular forces involved in a side-impact collision are to blame for that tragic tally. Vehicle occupants who survive side-impact accidents commonly suffer spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and other life-threatening trauma resulting from their bodies being twisted and thrown sideways by the impact. 

Sideswipe Accidents

Unlike a side-impact crash, a sideswipe accident occurs when the side of one car collides with the side of another. Sideswipes are common on multi-lane roads and highways and anywhere one lane merges with another. They frequently result from driver carelessness, such as failing to signal a lane change, check a blind spot, or properly yield the right of way. According to the NHTSA, more than 850,000 sideswipe accidents happen annually.

 A sideswipe's initial collision will frequently inflict relatively minor damage to the vehicles involved. The greater danger of a sideswipe lies in its potential to cause a loss of control, leading to a secondary accident.

The force of the sideswipe collision can push a vehicle out of its lane into oncoming traffic or off the road entirely. Second collisions with trees, roadside barriers, and other vehicles commonly follow the initial sideswipe impact. And it's those secondary accidents that frequently lead to severe and fatal injuries. 

Head-On Accidents

A head-on or frontal accident occurs when vehicles collide front-to-front. By the numbers, head-on accidents are relatively uncommon. The NHTSA reports that they constitute just over two percent of annual traffic accidents nationwide. But what head-on collisions lack in frequency, they more than makeup for in violence and the potential to cause catastrophic damage.

The force of a head-on collision, particularly when one or both vehicles travel at high speed, commonly destroys both vehicles and inflicts severe trauma on their occupants.

NHTSA data reflects that head-on collisions cause fatalities at higher rates than most other types of car accidents. They account for more than 10 percent of annual U.S. car accident fatalities, the only category of two-vehicle accidents with a death toll that exceeds its share of crashes.

Victims who survive them also tend to suffer extreme injuries, including crushed or traumatically amputated limbs, internal organ damage, and brain trauma.  

Single-Vehicle Accidents

Not all car accidents involve collisions between two or more vehicles. Some of the most deadly and destructive car crashes involve just a single vehicle. According to the NHTSA, approximately two million of them occur annually in the United States.

One common single-vehicle accident scenario involves a driver losing control and crashing into a roadside feature like a bridge abutment, lane divider, or tree. These accidents can be especially harmful for drivers and passengers because the feature their car hits is often immovable, resulting in the car absorbing the full force of the impact. Deaths, spinal trauma, and crush injuries are tragically routine in single-vehicle crashes like these. 

Another notable type of single-vehicle crash is a rollover. It takes significant force to make a car roll. It usually happens in high-speed crash situations where one vehicle turns sharply sideways or strikes an object broadside that "trips" the car into a roll.

SUVs have the highest incidence of rollovers among passenger cars since they often have relatively high centers of gravity. Rollovers are particularly deadly. They cause more than seven percent of all annual traffic deaths, despite accounting for little more than one percent of traffic accidents. 

Common Causes of Car Accidents

Car accidents have numerous causes. But most of them share a common denominator: they're preventable in that they result from the careless, reckless, or intentional actions of drivers and others. Here's a breakdown of the most prevalent, preventable causes of car accidents. 

Many car accidents occur because a driver makes a mistake or poor choice behind the wheel. Some are regrettable but understandable errors of judgment. Others reflect a driver's reckless disregard for the safety of others. If drivers obeyed the rules of the road, they would avoid nearly all of them.

Drivers cause accidents through: 

  • Distracted driving, which includes actions like texting and driving, eating and drinking behind the wheel, and rubbernecking. 
  • Drunk or drug-impaired driving, which persists as a major cause of car accidents despite years of public awareness campaigns and strict penalties. 
  • Speeding is the contributing cause of roughly a third of annual traffic accidents in the U.S.
  • Drowsy driving is an underappreciated and underreported cause of numerous accidents that is as dangerous as driving drunk or high. 
  • Failure to yield the right of way/obey traffic signs or signals, which are the most common causes of car accidents at intersections and busy in-town streets.

These are not the only driver-related causes of car accidents, of course. But they account for a significant proportion of them. And they illustrate the myriad ways a driver's wrongful, preventable actions can lead to a crash. 

Some accidents happen despite drivers doing everything right. But that doesn't necessarily mean those crashes are inevitable. To be sure, a small proportion of accidents with non-driver-related causes are truly random and unavoidable. But many more happen because someone other than a driver made a poor choice or engaged in dangerous conduct that led to a crash.

Here are some examples:

  • Unreasonably hazardous driving conditions created by a local road department's failures to build or maintain safe roads. 
  • Dangerous defects in a vehicle that triggers a sudden breakdown or loss of control.  
  • Improperly loaded cargo that falls or spills from a commercial vehicle creates a sudden, unavoidable driving hazard.

As mentioned above, these aren't the only non-driver-related causes of car accidents. Many more exist. But they illustrate how it's not just drivers who bear the blame for car accidents and should be held accountable for victims' losses. 

Car Accident Victims' Rights to Compensation

Victims of preventable car accident crash resulting from a driver's or someone else's unsafe decisions, actions, or failures to act have the right to seek compensation for their losses. Typically, anyone whose wrongful conduct caused a crash will owe monetary damages to those harmed in it. Others can share that liability when they have a legal obligation to do so.

Who bears liability for a car accident? 

As suggested by the review of common causes of car accidents above, multiple individuals, businesses, or entities could bear the blame for a car accident. And when they do, the law holds them liable for victims' losses. The law can also hold others liable for those at-fault parties' actions.

For example, liability for a car accident victim's damages could fall on: 

  • Careless or reckless drivers
  • Employers of drivers who crash work vehicles
  • Manufacturers of defective cars or car parts
  • Local government agencies or road contractors
  • Bars, restaurants, or others that serve alcohol to underage drunk drivers
  • At-fault parties' liability insurance companies
  • Victims' insurance companies

These are just some examples. Multiple parties can have liability simultaneously for a car accident. The most reliable way to find out who is liable for a car accident that injured you or a loved one is to consult an experienced lawyer

Potential Compensation for a Car Accident

In general, car accident victims have the legal right to receive compensation for all harm they suffer in a crash.

Every situation differs, but a skilled lawyer can often secure payment for crash victims':

  • Medical and other accident-related expenses
  • Cost of repairing or replacing a damaged car
  • Loss of income and job benefits from missing work
  • Loss of future earnings or opportunities due to a crash-related disability
  • Physical pain
  • Emotional suffering
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Scarring, disfigurement, or loss of bodily function

After a fatal car accident, the deceased victims' spouse, close family members, or legal estate can similarly demand compensation for their loss.

By pursuing a wrongful death and survival lawsuit, they may receive payment for: 

  • Loss of the victim's income, services, or financial support
  • Loss of the victim's companionship, consortium, or parental guidance
  • Emotional anguish caused by the death
  • The victim's pain and suffering before death
  • Accident-related expenses incurred by the victim before death
  • Funeral and burial expenses

In addition to the compensatory damages listed above, a skilled car accident lawyer can sometimes secure an award of punitive (or exemplary) damages, which punish the at-fault party's misconduct.

To find out the compensation you could claim after a car accident, consult an experienced car accident lawyer today. 

The Role of a Car Accident Lawyer

A car accident lawyer's job is to handle all aspects of obtaining compensation for an injured crash victim or the surviving loved ones of a deceased victim.

An experienced lawyer can: 

  • Investigate a car accident to identify the parties liable
  • Evaluate the victim's damages
  • Collect evidence to support a claim
  • Handle all interactions with insurance companies
  • Advise and counsel the victim on important decisions
  • Prepare, file, and litigate lawsuits and insurance claims for damages
  • Negotiate settlements 
  • Go to trial to prove a car accident case to a judge and jury
  • Collect and distribute the money owed to the victim

Car accident lawyers offer free consultations for crash victims and their loved ones. They also work on contingency, meaning it costs nothing upfront to hire them. They only get paid if they win for you. 

Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Today

Any type of car accident can inflict severe, lasting harm. And no matter what type of accident injured you or your loved one, hiring a skilled car accident lawyer to handle your claim maximizes your chances of compensation. 

To learn more about your rights after a car accident, contact a personal injury attorney in Texas today for your free consultation.