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Articulated trucks, sometimes called semi-trucks or 18-wheelers, are essential for transporting goods across the country. However, these large vehicles also come with unique risks, especially when it comes to jackknife accidents. This article will examine what a jackknife accident is, the common causes, and the unique dangers articulated trucks pose when they jackknife.

What is a Jackknife Accident?

A jackknife accident occurs when the tractor unit and trailer of an articulated truck fold up into a V or L shape. This often happens when the truck brakes suddenly, causing the trailer to swing out until it forms an angle with the tractor. The jackknife effect can also occur when turning too sharply.

Jackknifing renders the truck unstable and difficult to control. It can lead to the truck tipping over or spinning out. This makes jackknife accidents extremely dangerous at high speeds.

Common Causes of Jackknife Truck Accidents

There are several common causes of jackknife accidents in articulated trucks:

Sudden Braking

Slamming on the brakes can cause the trailer to violently swing out. This is especially true if the trailer is not loaded optimally and the weight is imbalanced. Sudden braking often occurs when a driver needs to avoid another vehicle or object in the road.

Speeding Around Curves

Taking turns too quickly can lead to trailer sway and jackknifing. High speeds don’t allow proper time to slow down and maneuver large trucks.

Improper Maneuvering

Making too sharp of a turn from a stop or at low speeds can cause the trailer to jackknife. Truck drivers need ample space and time to maneuver properly.

Slippery Road Conditions

Rain, snow, and ice reduce traction and make jackknife accidents more likely. Limited grip on the road makes it harder to brake and turn safely.

Fatigued Driving

Drowsy driving leads to slower reaction times and impaired judgment. This makes it difficult to respond appropriately to avoid a jackknife situation. Fatigue is a common problem in the trucking industry due to long hours.

Poor Maintenance

Equipment problems like faulty brakes, slick tires, and unbalanced trailer loads can all precipitate a jackknife accident. Keeping trucks well-maintained reduces preventable mechanical issues.

Driver Error

Simple mistakes like distracted or aggressive driving may cause a driver to brake too hard or turn too sharply. Good defensive driving techniques help avoid jackknife inducing driver errors.

Unbalanced Loads

An uneven load distribution in the trailer can shift the center of gravity and make jackknifing more likely. Loading cargo incorrectly or having it come loose mid-transit creates a dangerous imbalance.

Excessive Speed

Traveling too fast gives trucks insufficient time and distance to react and brake safely. Speed limits for commercial vehicles exist for good reason.

Overloaded Trailers

Exceeding the maximum load capacity raises the risk of load shifting and makes handling more difficult. Overloading trucks is unfortunately a common problem.

The Unique Dangers of a Jackknifed Articulated Truck

While any vehicle accident can potentially be severe, jackknifed semi-trucks pose unique risks due to their immense size and weight. Some of the most significant dangers include:

Difficult to Control

Once a truck jackknifes, it becomes extremely challenging to steer and correct the situation. Regaining control of two broken segments connected by a hitch is nearly impossible at high speeds. This makes collisions, tip-overs, and run-off-road accidents much more likely.

Huge Momentum

A fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. At highway speeds, these gargantuan trucks build up tremendous momentum. All this weight and momentum lurching out of control multiplies the damage if a jackknifed truck collides with other vehicles or objects.

Vulnerable Occupants

The immense force of a jackknifed semi-truck can easily smash smaller vehicles. Passenger cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians are no match for the crushing weight of an unstable articulated truck. Truck drivers are also vulnerable to injury if their cab tips over or is struck by the swinging trailer.

Cargo Spills

When a semi jackknifes, any unsecured cargo in the trailer can spill out violently across the road. This poses a major hazard, especially if the truck is hauling hazardous materials. Wide-scattering debris also creates additional impacts for other motorists.

Chain Reaction Crashes

Jackknifed trucks often block multiple lanes and cause chain reaction crashes. This effect is magnified on highways where other drivers have little time to react and stop. One jackknifed trailer can result in a huge pileup involving dozens of vehicles and serious injuries.

Difficult Rescue Operations

It takes specialized heavy rescue equipment to safely extract victims from an overturned or damaged semi cab. Rescuers also face the challenge of uprighting and moving the jackknifed trailer blocking roadways. Saved lives often depend on precious extrication time.

Traffic Jams

Jackknifed semis frequently lead to massive traffic jams that snarl roads for hours. These have a ripple effect on transportation networks, delaying deliveries and impacting businesses. Major highways and interstates may need to be shut down completely after a jackknife.

Environmental Contamination

Overturned fuel tanks or hazardous material spills can cause environmental contamination issues. Chemical leaks from a jackknifed truck have the potential to pollute surrounding air, soil, and waterways.

Infrastructure Damage

The enormous weight and force of an out-of-control jackknifed trailer can do serious damage to roads, barriers, signs, and bridges. The costs to repair infrastructure damaged by trucking crashes are substantial.

Jackknife accidents happen fast and the results can be catastrophic. While truck drivers strive to operate safely, passenger vehicle drivers also need to be alert and cautious around semi-trucks. Leave ample stopping distance between your vehicle and a semi. Be prepared for wide turns and trailer swaying. Avoid driving in the blind spot next to or just in front of a tractor-trailer. Allow time and space for trucks to maneuver, especially on curves or in low traction conditions. Defensive driving saves lives.

No matter the cause, jackknifed truck accidents are complex legal cases involving massive vehicles, corporate trucking companies, insurance disputes, and complex liability questions. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in a jackknife truck crash, contact our knowledgeable truck accident lawyers today. We have decades of experience holding negligent truckers and companies accountable. You deserve justice.

Call now for a free consultation on (614) 224-4114.

Or visit our offices at:

  • Westerville – 4151 Executive Pkwy, Suite 355, Westerville, OH 43081
  • Mansfield – 33 S. Lexington-Springmill Rd, Mansfield, OH 44906

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