How and Why Do Trucks Jackknife?

You’ve surely heard the term before on the news: a tractor-trailer jackknifes, causing a pileup and hours-long delay on the highway. Read on for a description of what it means for a large truck to jackknife, why it happens, and how it can be prevented.

Jackknifing refers to when a tractor-trailer or big rig skids, resulting in the trailer swinging forward and to the side, resembling a partially-opened jackknife or folding blade. Jackknifing results from the truck’s drive wheels locking up when some outside force causes the truck to lose traction. Often, a loss of traction is caused by wet or icy roads, but it can also result from the force of a different collision, improper or sudden breaking, or equipment failure. When the truck’s powered wheels stop moving, the rear wheels continue traveling forward, causing the trailer to swing out, and robbing the driver of control over the vehicle. Jackknifing can also result from a poorly-maintained truck. Many times, when a truck jackknifes while traveling a high rate of speed, the truck will roll over, posing an additional danger to other drivers.

When truck drivers encounter a potentially dangerous patch of road, or begin to slide on a wet or icy spot, they have three options for how to bring the truck to a stop. The driver can lock the steering axle brakes, which will allow the truck to move straight ahead even when the wheels are angled. The driver can also lock the trailer axles, which robs the driver of control. Finally, the driver can also lock the drive axles, which frequently leads to jackknifing. While poor roadway conditions may be outside of their control, there are numerous ways that truckers can avoid jackknifing, such as electing the proper means of braking, not following other vehicles too closely, and not braking and swerving simultaneously. Truck drivers may be liable for negligently or recklessly causing an accident when they do not follow best practices for operating, controlling, and maintaining their vehicles.

If you have been injured in a crash with a tractor-trailer or 18 wheeler, contact the knowledgeable Hudson Valley truck accident law firm Basch & Keegan for a consultation, at (845) 338-8884.