When Trucks Jackknife

What is Jackknifing?

truck jackknife

A truck Jackknifes when the trailer being towed by the tractor (cab) swings around into a 45-degree (or more) angle with the cab causing the driver to lose control of the truck. Jackknife truck accidents typically occur when the rear wheels lose traction and go into a slide. This loss of traction can be the result of a number of things. The most common causes include:

  • Slick road conditions from ice or water
  • Sudden braking by the driver
  • Equipment failure
  • Failure to Maintain the tires

Many times, several of the above factors will combine to cause a jackknife truck accident.

Driving in Unsafe Road Conditions

18-wheelers are large vehicles that require a longer stopping distance than most other vehicles—even when they are not loaded.  When the road is wet, it becomes very difficult to stop if the driver has not left plenty of space between his vehicle and the vehicle ahead of him. Empty trailers are even more likely to slide than loaded trailers on wet or icy roads. However, when a truck driver chooses to operate in slick or wet conditions knowing that his vehicle will be harder to stop and that jackknifing is more likely, he has the exact same obligation as every other driver to maintain a safe stopping distance. Thus, he must account for the fact that he will have a loss of traction and plan accordingly. Failure to do so can result in a jackknife truck accident that he could have prevented.

Sudden or Improper Braking

Slamming on the brakes is sometimes necessary. However, if it is not done properly or at a safe time, it can result in a serious accident. When a driver stops quickly and starts to slide, he has three braking options:

  • Lock the steering axle brakes–which causes the semi to continue moving forward until it stops,
  • lock the trailer axles–which resulting in the driver losing control of the direction of the skid altogether, or;
  • lock up the drive axles—which commonly results in a jackknife situation.

Every drive must recognize when it is and is not safe to apply any of the brakes. Furthermore, the driver needs to make sure he maintains a safe enough following distance so that he has time to brake.

Equipment Failure

While equipment may fail due to a manufacturing defect, it is more commonly the failure to maintain the equipment that results in equipment failure. Every trucking company and every truck driver share a duty to make sure that the trucks they operate on the roads are maintained in good safe working order. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require that the truck and tires be inspected before and after every trip in a pre-trip and post-trip inspection. Any deficiencies must be repaired timely. Brake failure of any of the steering axel, trailer axels or drive axels can result in an imbalance in the way brakes are applied and thereby cause a jackknife truck accident. Additionally, defective or worn tires can cause the loss of traction that results in a jackknife truck accident. Thus, proper inspections and maintenance of the truck must me performed timely.

Preventing Jackknife Accidents

  • Conduct all required inspections thoroughly
  • Keep timely and accurate inspection and maintenance records
  • Maintain tires with sufficient tread
  • Avoid driving on slick roadways and under conditions involving rain, high wind, ice or snow
  • Maintain an assured clear distance behind the next vehicle
  • Drive under the speed limit when they must drive in dangerous conditions
  • Monitor drivers’ speeds via speed governing devices and/or the truck’s black box
  • Have regular refresher training on braking in emergency situations.
  • Make sure their load is properly secured to as to prevent loss of control from load shift.

When a company fails to do these things, they may be held liable by a jury for their negligence.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you or your loved ones have been injured or killed due to a jackknife truck accident, call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. for a free case evaluation today by an 18 wheeler injury attorney. The consultation is free and we do not charge any fees or expenses to you unless we make a recovery on your behalf.


Paul Cannon

Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.