What Causes a Truck to Jackknife?

What Are the Factors That Lead to Truck Jackknife Accidents?


Some trucks, such as semis or 18-wheelers, comprise two separate parts – the trailer and the cab or tractor. The tractor contains the engine and is the mobile part of the truck. In contrast, the trailer holds the cargo and is attached to the cab with hinges, allowing the cab to pull and direct it.

Ideally, both truck parts should align as they move. But in a truck jackknife accident, the trailer swings out of alignment, and the truck folds in on itself, with both parts at different angles. They form an ‘L’ or ‘V’ shape resembling a folding jackknife hence the name.

When a truck jackknife occurs, the driver often loses control of the vehicle, especially the larger trailer component, which spells danger for anyone nearby. These accidents are serious and account for many truck accident-related injuries and fatalities.

If you drive a two-part truck, your vehicle is susceptible to jackknife accidents. You could also be held personally responsible by the victims if you’re involved in a jackknife incident that leads to vehicular crashes, serious injuries, or death. Hence it is important that you do all you can to avoid such incidents.

Now you may wonder, “How do I avoid a jackknife accident?” The first step to avoiding jackknifing is to understand the causes. Several preventable factors, such as excessive speeding, improper cargo restraints, and poor braking systems, can cause jackknife accidents. If you eliminate those factors, you minimize the risk of accidental jackknifing.

Below are some of the more common causes of jackknife truck accidents and ways to avoid them to guide you.


Cargo-Related Issues

Proper cargo loading is essential for the balance of a commercial truck. The improper weight distribution of loaded cargo can affect the balance of the truck and make the trailer swing the wrong way.

The cargo should also be adequately secured so it does not shift in transit. Otherwise, one part of the trailer can become heavier than the other, and the truck may pull to the heavier side, causing a jackknife accident.

Most of the time, it is the trucking company’s responsibility to ensure that cargo is properly loaded and secured before transit. But by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Regulations, you also have some obligations to ensure cargo security as follows:

  • You need to understand or update your knowledge of proper cargo handling, federal and state cargo regulations, and principles of proper weight distribution.
  • Confirm that cargo is secured, properly distributed, and does not obscure your view before each trip. Do not begin the trip otherwise.
  • Familiarize yourself with the specific methods and procedures for securing cargo on your truck.
  • While in transit, stop to inspect the cargo and the fastening devices used to secure them within the first 50 miles after beginning a trip. You can make adjustments to ensure cargo security if necessary. Unless your cargo is sealed, the FMCSA regulations require you to repeat these checks every three hours or after driving for 150 miles depending on which happens first.


Excessive Speeding

Speeding is a primary cause of road accidents in the US. Driving at excessive speeds is even more dangerous when large trucks are involved because of their enormous sizes, which makes sudden braking difficult to achieve.

If you’re driving a two-part truck at high speeds and there is a sudden need to stop, applying too much pressure on the truck’s brakes can cause them to lock up. The pressure can cause the truck to jackknife and swing wildly, putting nearby passenger cars and pedestrians in danger.

The only way to avoid jackknifing due to speeding is to avoid speeding in the first place. Ensure you don’t drive beyond the approved speed limit, depending on your route. It is also illegal for a trucking company to schedule a trip requiring you to drive beyond state or federal speed limits. They must allow you sufficient time to complete the trip without putting yourself and others in harm’s way.


Mechanical Faults

Faulty truck parts could lead to jackknifing and other kinds of road accidents. For example, if a brake system is faulty, it could affect the driver’s ability to maneuver the vehicle safely. Faulty tires with reduced traction can also cause a truck to skid and jackknife, which could lead to severe injuries in truck drivers and other road users.

The FMCSA regulations require trucking companies to conduct routine inspections of their trucks to detect and fix any mechanical issues that could lead to such incidents. On your part, you are required to ensure that the following vehicle parts are in good working condition before you begin your trip:

  • Service brakes, brake connections, and hand brakes
  • The steering
  • Headlights and reflectors
  • Tires
  • Horn
  • Windshield wipers
  • Rear-vision mirrors
  • Coupling devices that connect the cab and the trailer
  • Wheels and rims
  • Emergency equipment


Bad Weather Conditions

Bad weather can affect the conditions of the road and impair your driving abilities. For example, heavy rainfall or snow can reduce visibility which could make it difficult to avoid a collision early. This could cause you to brake suddenly, and such sudden stops are a recipe for jackknifing.

Driving on icy roads is also dangerous because the smoothness of the ice means reduced traction, which can cause the truck to skid and jackknife. You need to avoid driving in such conditions if you hope to avoid jackknifing.

It may be difficult to predict bad weather, especially on long interstate trips. However, if you encounter poor weather conditions, you can stop and seek safety until the conditions improve. You are allowed to continue your trip after stopping due to adverse driving conditions even if your maximum driving hours had ended while you had stopped.


Driver Negligence

Truck jackknifes can also be caused by negligent or impaired driving, so it is important that you only drive when you’re in good health and with a clear head.

It is illegal for trucking companies to make you drive when you’re ill. If you feel under the weather, let your employers know so they can reassign your trip to someone else.

You must also avoid consuming alcohol, drugs, or anything else that could affect your driving before and during your trip.


Who Is Liable for a Jackknife Crash? 


When jackknife or trucking injuries occur, the individuals affected might be able to claim compensation from the liable party. In most cases, the party who pays compensation is the one whose actions led to the accident, which is not necessarily the truck driver.

For instance, if the jackknife accident was caused by a manufacturing defect in a vehicle part, the manufacturer could be liable for damages.

The trucking company may also be liable if the accident occurred because they failed to inspect the truck or fulfill any other statutory obligation.

You could also be held responsible for a jackknifing truck injury if your negligence contributed to the accident. Hence it is important that you drive carefully and fulfill your statutory obligations to avoid liability.


Get Help From an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer at Hurt Trucker Attorneys if You’ve Been Injured in a Jackknife Truck Wreck


If you’ve been injured in a jackknife truck accident, especially one the trucking company could have prevented; you don’t have to bear the expense of your recovery alone. Injured truck drivers are our priority at Hurt Trucker Attorneys.

We are here to support you and represent you throughout the compensation process. No matter how long it takes, we’ll be glad to pursue your claim and help you get the maximum compensation and benefits possible. Contact us today to get started.