Written by: Lawrence Flick
Jackknife accident is a common term used to describe several similar, but distinct, truck crash types. All involve loss of control. The name arises because the movement is similar to that of a pocket knife being folded.
In a typical true truck jackknife accident, the front part of the tractor of the tractor-trailer spins and collides with the trailer. In a “swing out” or “trailer swing” accident the trailer of the tractor-trailer swings out across the road and can end up at a 90-degree angle with the truck’s tractor.
True jackknifes happen suddenly, with little opportunity for the truck driver to stop the truck jackknifing once it has started. Trailer swings can start more slowly with the possibility for a skilled truck driver to recover control. Both scenarios present the potential for other vehicles on the road to get hit by the jackknifing truck. Furthermore, the wreck can cause an obstruction to traffic, increasing the risk of other vehicles crashing into it. Another scenario would be if the truck jackknifes so hard that it rolls over to one side. Whatever the case, a jackknife crash has the potential to cause serious injuries – and even fatal ones – to multiple people.
Causes of a Jackknife Truck Accident
Jackknifing can happen when a sudden brake is applied to a tractor-trailer. A truck’s brake system is more complex than that of cars; it consists of three braking options: the steering axle brake, the drive axle brake, and the trailer axle brake. A true jackknife accident can occur when the driver abruptly tries to stop using the drive axle brake – it locks the drive wheels but not the ones on the trailer, causing a skid.
There are various reasons a truck driver suddenly or improperly applies a brake. It could be to avoid hitting someone or something. Or, the truck may have a mechanical issue that causes its brake system to malfunction. Going at high speed also increases the risk of the truck jackknifing when braking.
A truck may also jackknife when traveling on a slippery road. A federal study found that bad weather conditions increase the likelihood of a jackknife threefold. Traveling on a curve is another risk factor with the same federal study finding traveling on a curve almost doubles the risk of a jackknife.
Prevalence of Jackknife Crashes
There are thousands of jackknife truck accidents in the United States each year. While most of these result in property damage only, a large number still cause injuries and fatalities.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that in 2013, jackknifing occurred in 183 fatal crashes and 1,000 injury crashes. Jackknifing also occurred in 5,000 accidents that caused property damage.
Technology like anti-lock brake systems (ABS) and electronic stability control (ECS) can be effective in preventing jackknifes. ABS is required on new trucks and as more and more old trucks are taken out of service and replaced by new ABS equipped tractors it is expected that jackknifes will become less prevalent.
Considerations in Jackknifes
As seen from the tragic Kansas City area multi-vehicle crash example, described above, jackknifes in cause serious injuries like head trauma, neck or spine injury, severe fractures, catastrophic injuries and, in some cases death.
A jackknifing accident case may be complicated. If you or someone in your family has been injured in a jackknife crash in Missouri or Kansas, your best course of action is to hire a trucking accident attorney with skills and experience to win such a case. Flick Law Firm has years of experience working truck accident cases, and has been repeatedly successful in obtaining fair compensation for clients. Contact Flick Law Firm today for the legal help you need.