Who is At Fault for a Car Accident When Vehicles are Merging/Changing Lanes?

Posted on behalf of Peter T. Nicholl in Car Accidents Published on May 22, 2020 and updated on May 2, 2024.

changing lane car accident

Merging onto a highway or changing lanes on a busy street can be tricky. Drivers need to devote their full attention to this maneuver to do it safely. Merging is particularly dangerous in heavy traffic. However, even when there are fewer vehicles on the road, merging could pose a crash risk.

Unfortunately, drivers may speed up or fail to use their turn signals when approaching multiple lanes of traffic or moving from one lane to another. These actions have the potential to cause an accident resulting in severe injuries and property damage for victims sharing the road.

If a crash happens while merging, do you know who is at fault? Do you know the right-of-way laws governing these situations? Who is supposed to yield?

Our Maryland car accident lawyers discuss why these accidents often happen and how fault is determined in these cases. If you need help after a crash, request a free consultation to get started.

Maryland Laws on Merging With Other Traffic

The state law for merging on Maryland roads is simple. If you attempt to merge with other traffic, such as when entering an interstate, you must yield to other vehicles. That means the other traffic already traveling on the road you are trying to enter has the right of way and you do not. That said, other drivers should try to move out of the lane you are merging into if it is safe to do so.

Drivers who violate the law while attempting to merge may be liable for damages if an accident results.

What are the Common Causes of Merging/Lane-Change Accidents?

A merging or lane-change accident can happen for several reasons. The driver may misjudge the amount of space available between vehicles before entering the lane. A merge accident could also happen if a driver does not merge his or her vehicle safely onto a roadway from a stop or yield position.

Other common causes of merging or lane-change accidents include:

  • Merging too quickly or slowly when entering the highway
  • Changing lanes without using a turn signal
  • Crossing multiple lanes of traffic, all at once
  • Cutting off other vehicles to merge or change lanes
  • Road rage caused by having to wait to merge
  • Speeding
  • The merging driver hesitates while making the maneuver
  • Distractions, such as texting and driving
  • Driving too slowly while trying to merge
  • Tailgating another vehicle
  • Moving from one lane to another

These accidents could result in a wide range of injuries, such as:

  • Cuts and bruises
  • Broken bones
  • Injuries to the knee, such as damage to the ligaments
  • Whiplash
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Spinal cord injuries

One of the reasons injuries from a merging crash could be severe is that the cars are so close together. Manufacturers have a hard time building vehicles that can withstand impact from another vehicle that is so close.

Vehicles that are merging are often traveling at high speed, which is another reason victims may suffer severe or even life-threatening injuries in these crashes.

Who is Liable for a Merging Accident?

In most situations, the driver who merges or changes lanes is generally found at fault in the event of an accident. The driver must yield the right-of-way to oncoming vehicles. If a crash occurs because of the merging driver’s negligence, he or she may be liable for any resulting injuries and property damage. For instance, if the driver fails to follow posted speed limits or crashes into a vehicle that is already traveling in the traffic lane. However, some exceptions could exist.

For instance, perhaps an aggressive driver intentionally hit the driver who was merging because he or she thought the driver was cutting him or her off. A driver may be changing lanes at the exact time that another vehicle is merging into the same lane. Other exceptions include drivers who are speeding, driving while distracted or driving while intoxicated. In these situations, two or more drivers may be at fault.

Since every merging and lane-change accident is different, it is important to discuss your situation with a licensed car accident lawyer. He or she will be able to help determine cause and liability.

When Might the Non-Merging Driver Be at Fault?

Insurance companies and juries are often going to assume the driver who was merging is the one at fault for a crash. They are often correct.

However, there are times when the driver who was not merging is to blame for a crash. If your lawyer can prove the non-merging driver was negligent, he or she might be partially at fault. For example, if the non-merging driver was distracted and drifted into your lane, he or she may be to blame for the crash. Dangerous distractions could include texting, eating or grooming while driving.

Sometimes non-merging drivers drift into merging drivers. The non-merging driver may have sped up or lost control of the car for some reason, such as when impaired by drugs, alcohol, or even fatigue. If the non-merging driver’s recklessness caused a dangerous condition that increased the risk of a crash, he or she may be partially or fully to blame.

Partial Fault in Maryland

It is important to note that you cannot recover any compensation if you are partially at fault for a collision in Maryland. Our state is one of a handful that prohibits crash victims from recovering any compensation if they bear even a small percentage of fault for a crash.

That means if the non-merging driver is only partially and not fully at fault, you cannot recover any compensation for your damages.

Preventing Merging/Lane-Change Accidents

Merging or lane-change accidents can be prevented if drivers follow traffic laws and operate their vehicles in a safe manner while sharing the road. To help reduce your risk of a crash, be sure to:

  • Keep a safe distance – Avoid tailgating other vehicles and leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you so that drivers can safely merge or change lanes. If drivers are merging into your lane, try to switch lanes if you can.
  • Use turn signals – Always indicate your intent to merge or change lanes and give drivers enough time to see that you are signaling before making a move.
  • Merge or change lanes gradually – When merging or changing lanes, avoid making sudden movements. This could catch other drivers off-guard and cause them to swerve or overreact. Make sure to use your mirrors and do not try to merge across multiple lanes.
  • Avoid distractions behind the wheel – There are many distractions besides texting while driving. For example, some drivers groom themselves while driving, while others may eat or drink. Getting distracted, even for a few seconds, could cause you to drift into another lane.
  • Change lanes on the approach to a highway onramp – By getting out of the merge lane early, you can greatly reduce your risk of a crash.

What to Do After a Merging Accident

The steps you take after a merging accident could affect your ability to obtain compensation for damages. It is also critical to take steps to protect your health and safety in the hours and days following the crash.

Move Your Vehicle to a Safe Location

If your vehicle is still operable and it is safe to do so, move to the shoulder and out of the flow of traffic. You should also flip on your hazard lights to alert passing drivers of your stopped vehicle. You do not want to get rear-ended while waiting for police and other first responders to arrive.

Call 9-1-1 Right Away

Even if you think the crash is no big deal, you should still call the police so they can come to the scene, investigate and complete a report. The police report can be a vital piece of evidence in an insurance claim. If injuries occurred or a vehicle has to be towed away, you are required by state law to call the police to the scene.

Exchange Information With the Other Driver

While you are waiting for police to come to the scene, you can exchange insurance and contact details with the other driver. If you are too injured to get out of your car, it is fine to stay put. You should not strain yourself physically just to collect information for your potential claim for compensation.

Sometimes drivers refuse to talk or exchange information. Rather than be pushy in this situation, it is a good idea to wait for the police to arrive. If the other driver gets angry or seems to be physically threatening you, stay in your car and do not engage with him or her. You should also avoid making any eye contact as this could set the other driver off.

Document Evidence at the Scene

If you can, take pictures of both vehicles and any visible injuries. Photographs of the surrounding area can also be helpful. Make sure to get pictures of debris created by the accident.

Get Medical Treatment Right Away

You need to get medical attention immediately to diagnose and stabilize your injuries. In some cases, if you do not get medical care right away, your injuries can be harder to treat. If you have serious internal injuries, you could develop life-threatening complications.

You might not always feel serious symptoms right away, but that is no reason to delay treatment. Maybe your injuries really are not such a big deal. However, you need to allow a licensed medical professional to make that determination.

The other problem with not going to the doctor right away is the insurance company will view it as a sign you are not injured, or your injuries are not that serious.

Get in Touch With Our Firm Today

If another party caused you to suffer injuries due to a merging or lane-change accident, our lawyers at The Law Offices of Peter T. Nicholl are here to help. We are prepared to investigate your accident and fight on your behalf to pursue the compensation you need.

Our consultations are free and there are no upfront fees to retain our services. Our firm only receives payment if we are successful in obtaining compensation through a verdict or settlement.

Call us anytime over the phone at 410-401-9979 or online.