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Why Trucks Jackknife


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The jackknifing of a truck is a dangerous and potentially deadly situation that requires the driver’s full attention and focus to prevent a crash. Jackknifing occurs when the trailer of a tractor-trailer swings around until it forms an angle with the cab, resembling the shape of a folding pocketknife or jackknife.

It can happen when improper braking or the trailer’s brakes are not functioning correctly. In either case, the result is a high risk for the semi-truck driver and other motorists.

Despite its dangers, thousands of semi-trucks experience this type of accident yearly in North America alone. To better understand why these truck accidents occur, it is essential to look at both their causes and contributing factors and what can be done to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Causes of Semi-Truck Jackknifing

Truck jackknifing can lead to severe injuries and fatalities for drivers, passengers, and other motorists on the road. Common causes that contribute to dangerous jackknife (articulated vehicle) accidents leading to serious injuries include:

  • Inadequate trailer brakes
  • Unbalanced loads
  • Excessive speed
  • A braking semi-truck cab with an empty trailer
  • Inclement weather conditions
  • Poorly maintained roads or highways

When a truck driver fails to properly brake the tractor and trailer together in a coordinated manner, it can cause the trailer to swing out at an angle, resulting in a jackknife situation.

Additionally, if the trailer’s brakes are not functioning correctly or there is an imbalance in the weight distribution of the cargo being carried, it can lead to an increased risk of jackknifing. Suddenly, the truck driver slams the brake, and the trailer pushes into the truck until it jackknifes.

Finally, hazardous roadways due to poor weather, mechanical failures, or a lack of maintenance can also contribute to a semi-truck jackknife accident.

Factors Contributing to Truck Jackknife Accidents

Sharing the road with a semi-truck can be hazardous due to the dangers of jackknifing. Some of the contributing factors to a jackknifing accident include:

  • Driver distraction
  • Driver fatigue or exhaustion
  • Improperly trained drivers
  • Poor vehicle maintenance
  • Brake failure
  • Cargo shifts
  • Overloaded trailers
  • Excessive speed
  • Inclement weather conditions such as heavy rain, snow, or ice
  • Poorly maintained roads or highways

Preventative Measures for Truck Drivers

Trucks jackknife when the truck drivers lose control. Common preventative measures to prevent jackknifing trucks include:

  • Distracted driving: When a driver is distracted, they may not be able to react quickly enough to avoid a jackknife.
  • Driver fatigue can lead to slower reaction times and impair the driver’s ability to make sound decisions behind the wheel.
  • Continuing educational and hands-on training: Drivers who need to be adequately trained or have bad driving experiences may be more prone to making mistakes that could lead to jackknifing truck accidents.
  • Routine maintenance: Poor vehicle maintenance can also increase the risk of jackknifing if the brakes or other components of large trucks are not functioning correctly.
  • Loading cargo: Overloaded trailers can also contribute to a semi-truck jackknife accident, as can speeding on hazardous road conditions faster than the posted speed limit, inclement weather conditions such as heavy rain, snow, or ice, and poorly maintained roads.
  • Driver awareness: A critical factor in avoiding jackknife truck wrecks is for drivers to be aware of their driving habits when sharing the road with other vehicles.

Truck Driver Safety Regulations & Enforcement

Truck jackknifing is dangerous when an articulated haulage vehicle's trailer swings out of alignment, making the truck difficult to control. The truck's trailer attached to the cab will swing like a small folding knife, often leading to severe or fatal injuries.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) works to reduce jackknife accidents through safety regulations and enforcement measures. The FMCSA has issued many regulations for trucking companies, commercial trucks, and truck drivers to ensure safe driving throughout the country.

The administration requires every trucking company to maintain their vehicles regularly and for drivers to receive extensive training on operating a large truck safely. Commercial motor vehicles are inspected at set intervals to enforce these rules, and drivers can face fines if they violate any regulations.

The FMCSA also closely monitors driver performance records and takes appropriate action against those who have numerous violations or put other road users at risk. The FMCSA does much to lessen the chances of a jackknife truck wreck occurring on our roads.

How a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help Injured Victims Hurt in a Catastrophic Truck Jackknife Accident

A personal injury lawyer specializes in representing individuals who have been physically or mentally harmed due to the negligence of another party. They have an in-depth understanding of tort law and can provide their clients with legal advice when filing a claim or lawsuit. Truck accident victims may not be familiar with this area of the law.

An experienced truck accident attorney can provide injured victims with valuable resources, such as medical professionals who specialize in treating trauma patients and access to expert witnesses who can make sense of any confusing evidence surrounding the incident.