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Jackknife Truck Accidents Are Some of the Worst Big Rig Wrecks. Here’s Why & What Causes Them

Jackknifing happens when an 18-wheeler’s trailer swings out from behind the cab, closing towards it like a pocket knife would close. Often horrific, jackknife truck accidents tend to involve multiple vehicles, catastrophic injuries, and death. In some cases, jackknifing can lead to rollovers, underride accidents, and chain-reaction crashes that harm several people.

What Causes Jackknife Truck Accidents?

Jackknife truck accidents occur whenever the cabs of big rigs slow down faster than the trailers they’re towing. These wrecks can also occur when the cab changes course suddenly, but the trailer continues in the original direction.

Various factors can give rise to the circumstances that cause jackknifing, including (but not limited to):

  • Driver negligence: Impaired, distracted, and fatigued drivers can overlook important signals in their driving environments. When they do, they may need to slam on the brakes at the last minute, which can cause jackknifing. Here, driver negligence can include the careless or reckless actions of truck drivers and other motorists on the roads.
  • Driver inexperience: If truck drivers do not know how to properly apply the brakes or safely perform turns, they can make mistakes that end up causing jackknife truck accidents.
  • Crash avoidance maneuvers: If truckers try to suddenly maneuver 18-wheelers to avoid a crash, like by trying to dodge something in the road or quickly turn, their trailers can jackknife.
  • Cargo issues: Unbalanced and unsecured cargo can shift in transit, throwing off a big rig’s center of gravity. That can increase the risks of swinging trailers and jackknife truck accidents.
  • Defective equipment: Tires, brakes, and trailer hitches are just a few pieces of equipment that can fail and end up causing jackknife truck accidents.
  • Poor road conditions: Minimal traction on the roads can make it challenging to safely slow down and stop trucks. With reduced traction, the risk of jackknife truck accidents surges.
  • Road curvature: Steeper angles and sloped roads can also contribute to jackknifing risks and wrecks.

How to Avoid Jackknife Truck Accidents

Truckers can reduce their risk of jackknifing by:

  • Braking slowly: Attempting to step on the brakes quickly can lock them up and cause jackknifing trucks.
  • Pulling over in poor weather: When there’s not enough traction to safely operate big rigs, it’s better to pull over and wait until conditions are safe again.
  • Inspecting tires and brakes: These vital pieces of tractor-trailer equipment get heavy use. They’re also the first two pieces of truck equipment to usually give out and cause 18-wheeler wrecks (source: FMCSA). So, keep a close eye on the tires and brakes and replace them ASAP whenever needed.
  • Balancing cargo: This means balancing the weight of cargo from the front to the back of the trailer, as well as from side to side.
  • Carefully driving empty trailers: Empty trailers can jackknife just as easily as fully loaded trailers, especially if drivers are speeding or if they end up slamming on the brakes suddenly.

Other drivers can also help reduce the risk of jackknife truck accidents by following the rules of the road and leaving plenty of space between their vehicles and trucks (check out more tips for driving around big rigs here).

Who’s Liable for Jackknife Truck Accidents?

Fault for jackknife truck accidents can lie with several parties, like (but not limited to):

  • Negligent drivers: Truckers and/or other motorists can be liable when their careless actions or inaction plays a role in jackknife truck accidents.
  • Motor carriers: Trucking companies can be at fault for wrecks caused by their inexperienced and unsafe truckers, as well as their poorly maintained trucks. They can also be liable if their policies or schedules contribute to jackknife truck accidents.
  • Loading dock workers: If these workers fail to properly balance or secure cargo, they may be partly at fault for any resulting wrecks.
  • Vehicle manufacturers: These companies can be liable when their defective equipment causes jackknife truck accidents.
  • The parties responsible for building or maintaining the roads: These entities can be at fault when dangerous road conditions and/or unsafe road design contributes to wrecks.

The best way to figure out liability after a jackknife truck accident is to consult with a lawyer who can investigate the crash and help you recover. Evidence like accident scene photos, tire tread marks on the street, and the final position of the big rig may help uncover liability. An attorney can help you locate and analyze this and other key evidence, so you’re able to sue every negligent party that hurt you in a jackknife truck accident.

Morris & Dewett provides this information to the public for general education and interest. The firm does not represent clients in every topic discussed in legal & injury news. The information is curated and produced based on trends in law, governance, and society to present relevant issues to the general public. Every effort is made to provide accurate information. Do not make any decision solely based on the information provided, please seek relevant counsel for each topic area. Consult an attorney before making any legal decision, consult a doctor before making any medical decision, and consult a financial advisor before making any fiscal decision. If you have any legal needs that we can assist you with, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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