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How to Prevent a Jackknife Truck Accident

Truck jackknifes in a gravel path

Jackknifing refers to a specific type of truck accident where the back trailer of a semi-truck folds in on itself at the point of connection with the truck cab. This loss of control happens when the trailer’s momentum overrides the cab’s ability to maintain its trajectory, causing the trailer to swing out and push the cab sideways.

It is estimated that 40,000 jackknifing truck accidents occur annually in the US, representing around 2% of all truck crashes.

While jackknife accidents may not the most common truck accidents in America, they can still cause serious injuries, property damage, and more.


Why is it Called Jackknifing?

The name perfectly captures the movement of the large truck during the accident. Just like a jackknife, the trailer folds in on itself at a sharp angle, resembling the folding blade of the pocketknife. It’s a simple analogy that effectively conveys the dangerous maneuver.

Jackknife Accident in Numbers

While jackknifing accidents might seem rare, their consequences can be severe. Here are some interesting statistics involving semi trucks and jackknifing:


Frequency of jackknife truck accidents

  • It is estimated that 40,000 jackknifing accidents occur annually in the US, representing around 2% of all crashes involving commercial trucks.
  • Single-trailer trucks are involved in over 70% of jackknifing accidents, while double-trailer incidents account for the remaining 30%.
A truck accident

Truck accident cases and its impact

  • Jackknife collisions contribute to roughly 500 fatalities per year, making them one of the most dangerous types of truck crashes.
  • These accidents also cause an estimated 11,000 injuries annually, with varying degrees of severity.
  • The economic cost of jackknifing accidents is significant, exceeding $1 billion per year in property damage and medical expenses.

Other Jackknife Collision Facts

  • Jackknifing accidents are more common on highways than on other roads.
  • They tend to occur more frequently during daylight hours than at night.
  • Younger truck drivers are statistically more likely to be involved in jackknifing accidents compared to experienced drivers.

What Causes Jackknifing?

Several factors can contribute to a jackknifing accident, including:

A truck about to lose control

Sudden braking

When a truck driver brakes abruptly, especially on slippery surfaces like ice or wet roads, the trailer can lose traction and continue moving forward, pushing the cab sideways.

Imagine a car slamming on the brakes while pulling a heavy trailer behind it; the trailer attached will tend to keep rolling forward, potentially causing the car to jackknife.

Sharp turns

Entering a turn at an excessive speed can cause the trailer swinging outwards due to centrifugal force, potentially jackknifing the entire truck.

Think of spinning a ball on a string; the faster you spin it, the more the string will pull outwards. The same principle applies to a truck taking a turn too quickly.

Adverse weather conditions

Icy or wet roads can significantly reduce traction, making it easier for the trailer to lose grip and swing out.

Brake failure

Malfunctioning brakes or worn-out tires can significantly reduce a truck’s ability to control its movements, increasing the risk of jackknifing. Faulty brakes won’t slow the truck down evenly, potentially causing one side of the trailer to skid and swing out.

Improper loading

Strong winds or uneven road surfaces can also throw off a truck’s balance and contribute to jackknifing. High winds can act like a giant hand pushing on the side of the trailer, while uneven roads can cause the truck to bounce, making it harder for the truck driver to control.

jackknife truck
A big rig overturned

Possible Damages When Jackknifing

The consequences of jackknifing truck accident can be far-reaching and devastating, causing a multitude of damages that impact lives, property, and infrastructure.

Here’s a closer look at the potential repercussions of a jackknifing truck:

Collisions with other vehicles

The uncontrolled trailer can slam into nearby passenger cars, motorcycles, or even other commercial trucks, resulting in severe injuries and fatalities. Initial collisions can trigger a domino effect, causing secondary crashes that further aggravate the situation.

The jackknifed truck and debris can easily span multiple lanes, bringing traffic to a standstill and posing further collision risks.

Overturned trucks

Overturned trucks often spill their cargo onto the road, creating additional hazards for other drivers and potentially causing environmental damage.

The immense weight of a truck coupled with the momentum of a jackknife can lead to rollovers, potentially crushing anything in their path.

Depending on the cargo and the circumstances of the rollover, fires can erupt, adding another layer of danger to the scene.

Infrastructure damage

The force of a jackknifing truck can easily crumple guardrails, rendering them useless for future accidents. Screeching tires, skidding trailers, and heavy impact can significantly damage road surfaces, requiring costly repairs and potential lane closures.

Collisions with the truck or debris can damage or destroy traffic signals and signs, leading to confusion, further safety risks, and another potential serious accident.

Economic costs

Injuries sustained in truck accidents can require extensive medical care, resulting in significant medical expenses for those involved. Repairing damaged vehicles, infrastructure, and cargo represents another layer of economic impact. Accidents often lead to delays, missed work, and disruptions to businesses, contributing to economic losses.

Truck accident victims involved in the jackknife accident may seek compensation from the trucking companies involved.

Emotional and psychological trauma

Witnessing or being involved in a jackknifing accident can be a traumatic experience, leaving lasting emotional and psychological scars.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a potential consequence for those directly affected by the accident.

The grief and loss associated with fatalities can have a profound impact on families and communities.

Truck Driver Tips: How to Prevent Jackknifing

A jackknife accident can be quite devastating. Fortunately, there are steps truck drivers can take to minimize the risk of jackknifing truck accidents:

  • Smooth and progressive braking: Avoid sudden braking, especially on slippery surfaces like ice or wet roads. Apply brakes gradually and evenly to maintain control of the trailer.
  • Be aware of weather conditions: Adjust your driving according to rain, snow, or wind. Slow down and increase following distance in poor weather to maintain control.
  • Slow down for turns: Don’t enter turns at high speeds. Take corners slowly and carefully to avoid the trailer swinging outwards due to centrifugal force.
A big rig overturned
  • Properly load and secure cargo: Ensure the weight is evenly distributed within the trailer to prevent shifting and imbalance.
  • Regular truck maintenance: Ensure your truck is in top condition. Regularly check and maintain brakes, tires, and other vital equipment to prevent malfunctions that could contribute to jackknifing.
  • Defensive driving: Practice safe driving habits like maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles, avoiding lane changes in close proximity, and anticipating potential hazards.
  • Ample insurance coverage: While insurance cannot completely eliminate the costs associated with jackknife accidents, having the right coverage, such as commercial trucking insurance, cargo insurance, general liability insurance, and even workers’ compensation insurance from a reputable insurance company, can help mitigate the financial hardship it can cause.

By understanding the dangers of jackknifing and taking preventive measures, we can all contribute to safer roads for truck drivers and motorists alike.

A confident-looking truck driver

Preparation is Key

Whether you’re a seasoned truck driver or a reputable trucking company, we understand the unique risks you face on the road. Commercial Trucking Insurance coordinates with over 30 carriers to help find the right coverage for you.

Contact our TRS-certified agents and get a truck insurance quote today and hit the road with full confidence knowing that you’re fully covered.