The term “jackknifing” describes a situation where a tractor-trailer skids and the trailer swings out to one side as a truck slows down. The two separate parts (cab and trailer) fold in on themselves at the point of separation. The 90-degree angle that is created by the truck and trailer resembles a pocketknife.
Jackknife truck accidents are, unfortunately, among the most common truck accidents due to the fact that the trailer is not fixed to the rig. The trailer platform is connected to the cabin of the truck with a hitch to allow for free movement. Although helpful for turning, this causes problems when truck drivers are forced to abruptly apply their emergency brakes. The cabin comes to an abrupt stop, but the trailer’s momentum pushes it forward until it swings around and jackknifes.
Top Causes of Jackknife Truck Accidents
- High Speeds
Speeding is major risk factor in reported cases of jackknife truck accidents. Vehicles must maintain an appropriate stopping distance as their speed increases. Trucks, due to the weight of their loads, require between 20 to 40 percent more space than cars. It makes sense that if a trucker is exceeding the speed limit, they will have to hit the brakes quickly to avoid rear-ending the vehicle in front of it. However, the trailer continues to move forward even though the front end has slowed down. Brad says, “Speed is the No. 1 contributing factor in fatal car accidents. Speeding increases the impact and potential for injury or death.”
- Mechanical Defects or Driver Negligence
Equipment failure is the cause of a large portion of jackknife crashes. Malfunctions can happen in any part of a commercial truck. Nearly 30 percent of truck accidents are due to tire defects. In some cases, a truck component was defective when manufacturers installed it. Other times, however, inadequate inspections and maintenance can lead to a vehicle jackknifing on the road.
- Slippery Weather Conditions
Heavy rain reduces visibility for drivers. Because a trucker might not notice stopped traffic until they are too close to brake safely, they risk jackknifing when they brake suddenly. Rainfall can make roads slippery, and the winter can mean ice on the road. While truck drivers cannot control the weather, they must practice care when they manage their vehicles.
- Heavy or Imbalanced Loads
In some cases, a jackknife accident relates to a truck’s load. The trailer could be overloaded, or an employee did not load the items properly. An imbalance may result in the trailer swaying while the truck is in motion.
- Inexperienced or Fatigued Drivers
Even with the proper training, a lot of a truck driver’s experience comes from real-world situations. Therefore, new drivers may misjudge braking distance. In addition, truck drivers are on a schedule and are often required to drive even when they are tired. A tired driver is a safety hazard to all other vehicles on the road. Brad says, “Fatigue in the trucking industry is especially dangerous. Tiredness and an 80,000-pound vehicle is not a good combination and could cause serious injury or death.”