Why Truck Jackknife Accidents Happen

Truck jackknife accidents in WAJackknife accidents occur when truck combinations, usually a tractor-trailer combination, fail to work in unison. The tractor and trailer move in different directions, typically an “L” or “V” shape with the tractor being one side of the L or V and the trailer being on the other, instead of the trailer being directly behind the tractor.

Jackknife accidents usually result in the tractor-trailer being spread across more than one lane of traffic and tying up traffic in several lanes. Even when the police are called to the scene of the jackknife, it can take hours to sync the tractor and trailer together again. When a tractor-trailer jackknifes, any vehicles near the truck may crash into the truck. The tractor or trailer can collide with any nearby vehicles. The cargo can spill from the truck creating additional layers of chaos. Another dangerous possibility is that a truck can roll over when it jackknifes.

Jackknife accidents usually occur when the front vehicle (the tractor or smaller vehicle) and the trailer are traveling at different speeds, which can cause the trailer to swing away from the cab. Skid marks often occur in jackknife accidents as the driver attempts to brake.

Smaller vehicles with attached trailers, such as when people attach a trailer to move their possessions, can jackknife. Cars or trucks that have a camper attached or agricultural equipment may also jackknife.

What causes a truck to jackknife?

Commercial truck drivers should understand why jackknife accidents happen and take steps to avoid these accidents. The trucking companies that hire truck drivers should ensure that their drivers understand these safety precautions. Trucking companies should also consider the risk of jackknife accidents due to speeding when developing the trucker’s delivery schedule, so the driver can reach his/her destination without a jackknife accident.

Loss of traction

Trailers that are partially full tend to be involved in jackknife accidents more than full trailers because the cargo may not be evenly distributed in a half-full truck. This can affect the traction of the truck. Loss of traction is a major reason why trucks jackknife. Some of the other reasons a tractor or trailer may lose traction include:

  • Moving through a curve too quickly.
  • Speeding or driving too fast for traffic conditions. It’s very hard for a tractor-trailer to slow down at high speeds.
  • Failing to slow down when the roads are wet.

Generally, the people that load the truck need to understand that there is a delicate balance. If the truck has too light a load, the truck can jackknife. If the load is too heavy, that increases the risk of the truck rolling over.

Other causes of truck jackknife accidents

Additional reasons a truck may jackknife include:

  • Improper braking. Truck drivers should take more time to stop instead of slamming on the brakes. Extending braking helps keep both the tractor and trailer fully on the road. Truck drivers should also use their regular brakes where possible instead of other brakes such as engine brakes. Drivers should avoid braking while in a curve.
  • Skidding. Skidding can lead to jackknife accidents.
  • Proper maintenance. Bad brakes, tires, or suspension systems can result in a jackknife accident.
  • Taking curves. Kennewick has many curved roads. Where possible truck drivers should slow down before entering curves or avoid taking roads with too many curves.

Defective truck parts, distracted driving, drunk driving, and driver fatigue can also cause truck jackknife accidents.

How can drivers prevent jackknife accidents?

The good news is that with proper education and equipment, jackknife accidents should be preventable.

According to Trucking Truth, what typically happens is that the driver applies the brakes, the trailer brakes lock and the rear end of the trailer begins to slide left or right. The tractor continues to travel straight ahead.

One possible driver solution includes easing off the brakes a little and “lightly touching the throttle.” Per the author, “Once you let off the brakes the trailer tires can begin finding a grip and touching the throttle will pull the trailer back in behind you.”

Otherwise, tractor jackknifes are “nearly impossible to pull out of.” Over-braking on slick roads generally won’t help because:

1) The trailer is “pushing the tractor harder if the drive tires break loose when you’re on the brakes than it does when you’re on the throttle so the tractor tends to spin around more quickly if you’re under braking.”

2) There is a delay in the air brake system that you don’t have with hydraulic brakes. Hydraulic brakes react almost instantly. Air brakes react more slowly. So even if you react almost instantly to a tractor jackknife caused by heavy braking, that 1/2 of a second or so can mean the difference between saving it or wrecking it.

Other types of brakes may help, such as anti-lock brakes and electronic brakes. When a truck driver applies the brakes too hard, these brakes help to shift the pressure to the rear brakes. Electromagnetic brakes may also help, but there are risks with electromagnetic brakes too.

Our trial lawyers work with investigators, the police, truck industry professionals, and traffic reconstruction experts when necessary to help show how a jackknife accident happened, what steps the truck driver should have taken to avoid the accident, and what protocols responsible trucking companies failed to take.

At Telaré Law, we demand full compensation for all your injuries, including your current and future medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, property damage, and other economic and personal damages. We seek wrongful death damages if a jackknife accident killed a loved one. Our Kennewick truck accident lawyers are respected by former clients, insurance companies, and defense lawyers for our strong record of impressive settlements and jury verdicts.

To assert your right to compensation after a truck jackknife accident, visit our Kennewick or Richland office. Please call us or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We’ll guide you step by step through the claims process. We hope to hear from you soon!