Why Do Trucks Jackknife? And What Should Victims Do?

 In Commercial Trucking Accidents, Trucking Accident

There are few things more terrifying than being in a crash with an 18-wheel semi-truck. The statistics are just as scary: one out of every ten deaths that occur in crashes on U.S. highways involves a large truck, and a total of 3,986 people died in truck wrecks in 2016. Only 17% of those killed were truck occupants; 66% were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles, and 16% were pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists.

Truck crashes are always dangerous, but one of the deadliest scenarios is called a jackknife wreck. Keep reading to learn about how jackknife crashes happen and how an attorney can help if you or someone you love has suffered injuries in a jackknife crash.

What Is a Jackknife Accident?

Time almost stands still as you watch the scene play out: A huge 18-wheeler driving in front of you begins to lose control. In just a split second, the truck skids and the trailer swings out to one side. The out-of-control truck now resembles a giant pocket knife folding in on itself.

Before you know it, the semi-truck is blocking all lanes of the highway and you can’t stop your car fast enough. You crash into the tractor-trailer and become the latest victim of a jackknife accident.

Any type of truck accident is potentially catastrophic since commercial trucks on our highways can weigh 80,000 pounds and often pull 28-foot double trailers. But even among truck crashes, jackknife crashes are especially deadly. So why do these wrecks occur?

Why Jackknife Crashes Happen

Jackknife crashes can result from many different situations. The most common causes include:

Improper Brake Adjustment and Maintenance

If a truck’s brakes aren’t properly adjusted and maintained, the trailer axles can lock before the tractor axles during heavy braking. In this situation, the semi drags the trailer and its locked brakes, and the trailer swings out to the side as a result.

High Speeds

A massive commercial truck takes an incredible amount of force to stop, especially if the truck is traveling over 55 miles per hour. The faster the truck is going, the more likely it is that the driver will try to slam the brakes if they need to stop quickly. Slamming on the brakes often leads to the braking imbalance described above, especially in trucks with improperly set brakes.

Sharp Curves and Evasive Maneuvers

While slight curves shouldn’t pose a problem for most commercial trucks and drivers, evasive maneuvers combined with high speed and a steep angle can cause the trailer end to swing out and the entire truck to lose control.

Slippery Weather Conditions and Roads

Any loss of traction can cause a truck’s weight to shift and lead both cab and trailer to slide. Given the massive weight and length of commercial trucks, a truck can jackknife from even the smallest of skids.

Driver Fatigue and Inexperience

One of the most significant and preventable causes of trucking accidents is driver fatigue, which lowers drivers’ reaction times and impairs their judgment. Unfortunately, trucking companies often encourage drivers to speed and exceed their hours-of-service limits despite the safety risks. In addition, trucking companies often hire drivers without training them adequately, which makes it more likely that they’ll panic or fail to respond properly when a dangerous situation comes up.

RELATED BLOG ARTICLE: Hit by a Truck Driver? They May Have Broken Rules and Regulations

How Truck Drivers Can Avoid Jackknifing

While some circumstances are out of the control of the truck driver, truckers can decrease the risk of a jackknife crash:

  • Keep a safe distance between the truck and other vehicles on the road, especially in inclement weather.
  • Don’t decelerate at turns or bends.
  • Brake early and spread braking over the longest distance possible.
  • Avoiding swerving and sudden evasive actions.
  • Steer into a skid if it occurs.

What Jackknife Crash Victims Should Do

At Seattle Truck Law, we know that being in a serious truck accident like a jackknife crash is often a devastating, life-altering event. The legal cases that result from these crashes are incredibly complex, which is why it’s important to hire a dedicated trucking attorney to handle your case. A general personal injury attorney who lacks experience handling truck wreck cases isn’t equipped to investigate your case and take on the trucking company and their insurers.

Hiring an experienced truck accident attorney can make all the difference for the outcome of your case. A truck wreck lawyer should know the right questions to ask when approaching your case, and they should have the staff and expert resources needed to dig deeper and perform a full investigation into the collision that injured you. They should also have a proven track record handling cases like yours, and they should know how to deal with insurance adjusters, law enforcement agencies, and state and federal transportation authorities.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a jackknife crash, you should act quickly and contact Seattle Truck Law so we can protect your legal rights. To prove that negligence caused your injuries, you’ll need evidence like the truck’s onboard data recorder, which documents information about the tractor’s speed and the application of the brakes, as well as testimony from eyewitnesses, the police report, medical records, and much more. This evidence will be vital in a trial or hearing, and an experienced truck accident lawyer can use it to build a strong claim. However, the trucking and insurance companies will move quickly to mount a defense, and statutes of limitation apply to truck wreck claims, so please don’t wait to act.

Contact Truck Wreck Justice if You’ve Been Hurt in a Trucking Accident

If you’ve suffered injuries in a truck wreck or your loved one is hurt and requires extensive care, you most likely don’t have the time or energy to gather evidence, investigate the complex causes of a crash, and build your personal injury claim. With years of experience and a sole focus on cases involving large vehicles, Morgan Adams is a powerful advocate for trucking accident victims and an experienced litigator who won’t hesitate to fight for your rights in court.

Please contact Truck Wreck Justice at (866) 580-4878 or fill out our online contact form if you need help. We offer free consultations to help you understand your legal options, and we handle cases on a contingent fee basis: You’ll never pay fees or case expenses unless we help you achieve a financial recovery through a jury verdict or settlement.


Fatality facts: Large trucks: 2016. (2017, December). Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Retrieved from https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/large-trucks/fatalityfacts/large-trucks

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (2007, July). The large truck crash causation study: Analysis brief (Publication No. FMCSA-RRA-07-017). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-analysis-brief

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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