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What Are the Causes of Jackknife Truck Accidents?

Can You Avoid a Jackknife Truck Accident?

A jackknife accident is exclusive to involving semi-trucks and tractor-trailers, and can range from creating minor or major damages; often, the outcome of these accidents is significant and devastating. The causes for these types of accidents vary, but the consistent factor is that an environmental or mechanical fault instigates the truck to jackknife at the sudden onset. Commercial trucks can weigh more than 80,000 pounds and are 25 times the size of an average passenger vehicle. Needless to say, the impact and force of such an accident can bring about serious injuries, especially to passenger car victims.

If you or your loved one have been involved in a jackknife truck wreck, contact an experienced truck accident lawyer to seek compensation from the truck driver, trucking company, or others that may be potentially negligent in the truck accident.

What is a Jackknife Truck Accident?

Transport truck crashed with jack knifed trailer lays on side of freeway

Semi-trucks and tractor-trailers have cabs and attached trailers that make up their driving vehicles. When operating as intended, the cab and trailer move in sync; however, should something go awry, the cab and trailer can begin to operate independently of one another, potentially creating a catastrophic outcome.

There are two types of jackknifing scenarios:

  • A trailer jackknife happens if the commercial trailer tires lock up while the large tractor persists on moving, resulting in the tail-end of the trailer swinging sideways.
  • A tractor jackknife happens when the commercial drive tires lock up, while the continued momentum of the back trailer keeps moving the tractor forward.

Jackknifing is when the semi-truck or tractor-trailer’s trailer pushes the cab in another direction, folding in on itself where the attached trailer is secured. Jackknife truck accidents are the result of an out-of-control commercial vehicle creating a jackknife collision with its trailer swinging out of control.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Jackknife Truck Accidents?

According to the latest crash statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), there were more than 7,000 vehicle accidents involving tractor trailers with nearly all of the fatal accidents occurring on Pennsylvania state highways. A conscientious truck driver can avoid most of the scenarios that can bring about jackknife accidents:

  • Driving at high speeds. When a large, commercial, heavy vehicle is driving 55 miles per hour or more, it becomes extremely difficult to make quick stops or directional changes. The heavy trailer the truck is pulling is much more likely to swing out of control. Trailer swings are likely when quick changes are administered by the driver, and when the posted speed limit is not adhered to.
  • Driving too fast on curved roads. Subtle variations in road curvature are able to be managed for most commercial trucks, but the bigger the angle and the longer the trailer, the more likely a trailer swing will occur and cause the entire truck to lose control and jackknife onto itself.
  • Braking on curves at high speeds. Braking should only be executed when the trailer and cab are in alignment. Turning and braking should be independent of one another and separate at all costs with commercial-sized vehicles.
  • Failure to be mindful of blind spots and to watch them for fellow vehicles. Commercial trucks have four “no zones” blind spots, and truck drivers are responsible for checking these, especially when shifting lanes. There are steps to take to certify that there is not another vehicle in their blind spot; passenger vehicles must also practice measures to avoid these blind spots. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted a study testing the implantation of crash avoidance systems (CASs), which help to alert truck drivers of potential oncoming road obstacles, and which instigate automatic energy braking (AEB) systems: “A total of 169 drivers operating 150 CAS-equipped trucks from seven trucking companies across the country participated in a 1-year field operational test, which included video and vehicle data to study CASs in a naturalistic environment. In over 3 million miles of data, no rear-end crashes of the type CASs are designed to prevent were identified.”
  • Unstable trailer loads that are not properly balanced or secured. Trailer sway indicates an improperly balanced trailer and often gives way to whipping when speed increases. To avoid this, 60 percent of the load should be on the front of the trailer, cargo should be secured with nothing protruding to the exterior, and trailers should not exceed the maximum weight threshold.
  • Empty trailers. Due to inventory delivery and drop-off, vacant trailers are often unavoidable. This is regarded as “deadheading.” Road traction is reduced when a trailer is empty and attached to a tractor or cab. In instances like this, a jackknifing accident can be at hand because the drive wheels will lock up if the driver suddenly brakes hard, particularly when the road is wet. An experienced driver knows how to recover from these instances by steering and easing up on the brake; alternatively, if the wheels lock, and the trucker brakes suddenly, the cab steers as should but the trailer waivers, ultimately resulting in a jackknifed truck.
  • Tire blowouts or other mechanical defects. Whether it is a tire blowout, a truck’s brake failure, hydraulic failure, mechanical defects, or driver negligence, the slightest malfunction is magnified when a commercial-sized vehicle endures it, causing the truck to lose control and sway back and forth. If the driver doesn’t maintain control quickly, the trailer could sway or even tip over.
  • Sudden driving errors and changes made due to distracted driving. This can include texting, eating, logging work, changing radio stations, and not keeping focus on all of one’s driving responsibilities on the road.
  • Environmental factors such as slippery roads, and other perilous road conditions. Road traction loss can cause shifts in weight loads, resulting in the sliding of the cab and trailer. Due to the large weight of these large commercial vehicles, and their length, even small slides can cause the truck to jackknife. According to the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMSCA), in 2020, 26 percent of work zone fatal crashes and 15 percent of work zone injury crashes involved at least one large truck.
  • Negligent hiring practices – when transportation companies employ drivers who lack proper training, certification, licensure, or those who have a poor driving safety record, accidents like jackknife accidents can occur and innocent people can get hurt

According to the latest statistics from the PennDOT, alcohol played a part in approximately 7 percent of the total crashes reported in 2020; yet, they resulted in 26 percent of fatalities. If a trucker is under the influence of either drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident, not only will they face criminal charges but risk losing their commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Substandard Inspections Can Contribute to Unsafe Commercial Vehicles on the Road

Truck Accident Lawyer Dan Munley examines the wreckage of a truck accidentFMSCA reported that of over 2 million roadside inspections, 23.2 percent of the investigated trucks were found to be in significant violation of mandatory codes. Truck companies’ regular maintenance was lacking, perhaps to save on maintenance costs. FMSCA has mandated requirements for periodic inspections and the maintenance of commercial vehicles: drivers are required to conduct an inspection before, during, and after an assigned trip and rectify anything that is subpar before the truck returns on the road—

Pre-trip inspection requirements for tractor trailers. This is a thorough all-encompassing inspection of the commercial vehicle that is to withstand delivery of its cargo and/or pickup on the road:

  • Examine the vehicle in its entirety and notate its overall condition. Examine the ground and under the trailer, should there be a leak of any sort.
  • Run the engine and place it into a fast idle move, warming up the engine. Observe the engine area to examine if it looks as if it is running appropriately, and listen for any unusual noises.
  • Ensure that the vehicle’s water levels and crankcase levels are adequate.
  • Check all light signals and headlights are operating.
  • Check the engine fan and that the compressor belt is secured without excess slack.
  • Check that proper readings are reflected on all the gauges.
  • Examine the steering wheel and that is working appropriately.
  • Determine that flashers, horns, wipers, and all emergency alerts are operable.
  • Check the tires and that they are in good condition.
  • Check the trailer in its entirety including attachments, the tow bar, pintle hooks, safety chains, and the converter gears for any issues.
  • Check all brake systems and the stoplights.

In-transit inspections. Commercial vehicle drivers should make periodic stops when out for long drives on the road. The occasional stop also should be used as an opportunity to inspect the vehicle for any hiccups, questionable problem areas, or defects. Should a problem arise and something needs to be addressed, the truck driver should refrain from driving and seek out mechanical assistance for maintenance and repair.

Post-Trip Inspections. At the end of a commercial driver’s trip assignment, truck drivers are required by the FMSCA to survey their vehicle and notate possible problems or mechanical issues of the vehicle that may have arisen during the ride. These inspections are all to occur daily and are to be logged in a Driver Vehicle Inspection Report.

Annual Inspections. Every year, a qualified and certified inspector must be commissioned to inspect commercial vehicles that are to be used on the road. Inspections must be in compliance with the guidelines and requirements set forth by the Department of Transportation.

Proper truck maintenance ensures that truck drivers have a safe, sound vehicle to drive and that no faulty mechanical issues are at bay. This alleviates any issue of brakes not working, and mechanical issues from being the cause for an avoidable jackknife occurrence.

What Can Passenger Vehicles do to Avoid Being Victims of a Jackknife Accident?

Passenger vehicles must act proactively when sharing the road with commercial vehicles. There is a long list of measures that commercial drivers must take when on the road; however, in many instances, truck drivers may have blind spots that do not always afford them to capture passenger cars. There are many proactive measures that can be taken to avoid a catastrophic truck accident, and more specifically, a jackknife truck accident.

A truck driver may turn or change lanes with your vehicle in its path and it is critical to know where a truck’s blind spots are located so that you take steps to avoid them.

The four blind spots for a tractor-trailer are:

  • Behind the truck is a large blind spot. Some trucks display stickers to inform fellow drivers that the truck driver cannot see you if you cannot see the truck’s side mirrors. The blind spot behind a trailer is 30 feet, according to FMSCA guidelines
  • In front of the truck also hosts a significant blind spot, extending at least 20 feet in front of the truck. Trucks need substantial space to slow down and stop; even if a commercial truck driver sees your vehicle, driving directly in front of a truck can be extremely precarious and dangerous.
  • On both sides of the truck, from the side mirrors along the side to the rear, and extending one lane outward, are blind spots for truck drivers.
  • The passenger (or right) side of the truck has a larger blind spot, extending two lanes outward. It also extends past the rear of the trailer. Driving on the right side of a truck within this area can be extremely dangerous. The FMCSA offers a diagram of the blind spots for commercial vehicles.

To avoid being part of a jackknife accident, passenger cars can do their part in moving around commercial vehicles where they can be seen, and by keeping an adequate distance between themselves and trucks when driving in front of or behind these large vehicles. If you are sharing the road with what appears to be the onset of a potential jackknife accident, be sure to give the vehicle plenty of space that is ahead of you, for braking. Temptations to accelerate past the truck may be strong, but doing so on roads that are wet or icy could instigate a collision rather than deter one. Distance yourself from the truck, reduce your speed, pull over if possible, and wait for the truck driver to regain control, in case it begins to jackknife.

Should I Contact a Jackknife Truck Accident Lawyer?

There are many reasons you want an experienced jackknife truck accident lawyer in your corner after a jackknife accident. Jackknife accidents involving a large, heavy semi truck can result in serious, life-altering injuries. Our truck accident lawyer can help you seek the compensation you are entitled to for the injuries and losses you have suffered from the accident.

Semi truck accidents can be complex. Your personal injury lawyers will know how to navigate your case. They will:

  • Help determine who is liable for your accident: Was the driver speeding or driving recklessly? Did the trucking company fail to service the truck or do the required inspections, maintenance, and repairs? Did the manufacturer of the truck’s parts supply defective parts?
  • Interview witnesses and police: If there were witnesses to the accident, your attorney will interview them, collect information from police and responders at the scene, check for traffic camera recordings, cell phone photos from witnesses and, if the case goes to trial, will retain a professional witness for your case.
  • Identify potential compensation: Your experienced truck accident attorneys know what you deserve to be compensated for. Many jackknife accidents cause severe injuries and you may have extensive medical expenses, lost wages, long-lasting pain and suffering, emotional distress, property damage to your vehicle, loss of your vehicle and personal property within the vehicle and more. Our truck accident attorneys know who should be held liable, how to seek compensation for your damages and suffering, and will fight to recover damages for ALL of your losses.
  • Deal with the insurance company: After a jackknife truck accident, the trucking company’s insurance company will reach out to you to try to arrange a settlement. Do not accept any offer until you talk to an experienced truck accident attorney.
  • Collect evidence: Proving liability in a truck accident case can be more complex than car accidents. Multiple parties can be at fault and knowing how to navigate the complexities of commercial truck insurance requires experience. Your lawyer will collect evidence from the truck driver’s log book, “black box” electronic data, the truck’s maintenance records, the trucking company’s safety record, the truck driver’s cell phone data, and more.

Many jackknife accidents are preventable. Vehicle failure, reckless driving, driver error such as distracted driving, or failure to adjust speed due to extenuating traffic conditions or shifting or dangerous weather patterns can lead to a devastating jackknife accident. If the truck driver was negligent in their duty to other vehicles on the road or if any entity failed to repair, inspect or maintain the semi truck or if any of the parts of the truck such as wheels, tires, brakes, or steering system had manufacturing defects, you need to contact our experienced truck accident law firm today to determine your rights and what compensation you may be entitled to for your suffering.

For more than 60 years, the fatal truck accident attorneys at Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys have fought for families and individuals who have lost a family member as a result of someone else’s wrongful action. We will work hard to get you the compensation you deserve. If you were involved in a jackknife truck accident, we’re here to help. Contact the jackknife truck accident lawyers at Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys today for a free consultation. We will make things right again.

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