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September 7th, 2022

What is a Jackknife Accident?

A jackknifed semi-truck is not something you want to see headed toward you. The vehicle and cargo could weigh 80,000 pounds. The trailer is pointed in a different direction than the cab, and the driver has lost control. It’s like a 70-to-80-foot runaway train on the roadway.

Technically for a jackknife, the trailer would be at more than a 45-degree angle relative to the truck. The driver can’t straighten out the two and by the time they stop, the tractor could be at a 90-degree angle or more from the trailer. 

If the driver, truck owner, or party loading a trailer made mistakes serious enough to be considered negligent and caused a crash into your vehicle and you’re injured, you may have a legal right to obtain compensation for your injuries.

What Causes a Jackknife Accident?

There may be many causes, most of them the result of negligent driving and failure to keep the vehicle under control:

  • Speeding

The driver may hit the brakes hard to avoid colliding with what’s in front of it. If the brakes lock up and the tires skid, the trailer may slide sideways and jackknife.

  • Following too closely

The driver may be impatient and tailgate another vehicle to force it to change lanes. The driver may not anticipate the other vehicle suddenly slowing or stopping. As a result, the truck driver slams the brakes, and the trailer starts sliding into another lane.

  • Operator fatigue 

The driver may not have gotten enough sleep, has driven many hours, the driving conditions may be bad, and the driver tired out sooner than usual. The driver might be distracted, drowsy, or falling asleep behind the wheel. They may awake or suddenly realize slower traffic or an object is ahead, hit the brakes or try to steer out of the way, causing the trailer to slide.

  • Unbalanced load 

The difference between avoiding and causing an accident can be if the weight in the trailer is or isn’t correctly loaded and distributed. If the driver sharply steers or uses the brakes and the cargo is unbalanced, it may shift and cause the trailer to side or tip over. 

  • Empty trailer

The lighter the trailer, the less traction the tires have, the more likely it is to jackknife under hard braking or terrible weather conditions.

  • An inexperienced or poorly trained driver 

Safely driving a commercial truck is a difficult and demanding job that requires skill and experience. Commercial truck drivers have a high turnover rate, partly because many are older and retiring. To attract new drivers, some companies are offering substantial pay. Training for new commercial truck drivers may last as little as three weeks. If an inexperienced driver gets into trouble, a jackknife accident may occur.

  • Bad weather

Whether the road is covered in water, snow, or ice, if a semi-truck travels too fast for conditions, it can jackknife. Trailer tires may lose traction, the trailer may start to slide, and a driver can make the situation worse by using the brakes. 

  • Worn and defective tires

What’s on the roadway may not cause a lack of traction. It may be that trailer tires have little or no tread on them. An improperly inflated tire, or one that’s defective or its tread is separating from the tire, can fail and result in a jackknife accident.

  • Getting cut off

The problem may not be the truck driver. If another driver cuts off the semi-truck, its driver may brake to avoid a crash, and especially if there are other problems (wet roadway, bald tires, unbalanced cargo), a jackknife accident may result.

Contributing factors that increase the risk of a jackknife, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, include:

  • Curved roads
  • Poorly lit roads
  • Faster speeds
  • Longer trailers

These are many problems drivers and trucking companies must avoid doing. If they make these mistakes, they risk causing an accident, injuring others, and being subject to an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. 

But a driver must not only avoid making mistakes that cause a crash, but they need to take affirmative actions to drive reasonably safely and prevent a jackknife accident. Failure to do that could also be negligence.

What Can a Semi-Truck Driver Do to Prevent a Jackknife Accident?

Drivers can take steps to avoid a jackknife accident or set the trailer right before it gets out of control, including:

  • Checking mirrors regularly to see if the trailer is swinging, especially when the driver brakes hard
  • If a jackknife starts while braking, releasing the brakes (if possible) may help tires regain traction, and the trailer may be under better control
  • Depending on the situation, accelerating may help the trailer get back in line with the tractor, but if the jackknife was caused by suddenly speeding up, then the driver should ease off the accelerator and steer out of the jackknife
  • Decelerating before going into turns reduces the need to use the brakes while in them, lessening the chances of a jackknife

This kind of knowledge comes with driving, so more experienced drivers should be safer.

Is There Any Technology That Can Reduce the Risk of Jackknifing?

If readily available technology could help prevent jackknife accidents, but the truck or trailer owner decides not to install it, and an accident follows, that may also be negligence which could be part of legal action or an insurance claim. This technology includes:

  • Anti-lock brakes should prevent skidding and help the driver maintain more control if the roadway is wet or icy
  • A load-sensing regulator on a trailer would reduce brake pressure as the weight in it lessens, cutting the chances of going into a skid
  • A device called a fifth wheel where the tractor connects to the trailer can prevent it from being t a sharp angle with the tractor

Over time, more and better technology should make semi-trailers safer for their drivers and those around them.

Contact a Houston Jackknifed Truck Accident Attorney Today

If you’re in a crash with a commercial truck that jackknifed, contact an experienced truck accident lawyer at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. as soon as possible. After you get medical attention, hiring a team of truck accident lawyers should be next. 

Call us at 713-893-0971 to schedule a free consultation so we can talk about your accident, how it happened, and how we can help. 

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