Understanding Jackknifing and How to Prevent It

Tipped over truck along the highway

While no one wants to be involved in a road accident, certain types of crashes are just more terrifying than others. Imagine being on a highway and seeing an 18-wheel semi lose control and its trailer starting to swing out to one side. That is the kind of stuff nightmares are made out of, and that is what jackknifing is.

While truck crashes are one of the most dangerous auto accidents, a jackknife wreck is one of the deadliest scenarios that could happen on the road. Here’s what you need to know about jackknifing, how to prevent it, and what victims of such an accident can do.

What Is a Jackknife Accident?

A jackknife crash is a type of trucking accident that occurs when the truck skids, loses control, and the trailer leaves its alignment and spins towards the cab, and collides with it. This usually results in a devastating crash that is often deadly for both the truck driver as well as other road users.

What Causes Jackknifing?

This accident usually happens when a truck driver accelerates too much while taking a turn, causing the truck to skid. Consequently, the trailer veers off its path, and swings towards the cabin an L or V shape. It resembles a knife whose blade folds into the handle, thus the name.

How to Avoid Jackknifing Accidents

Be Careful When Carrying Light Loads

Trucks carrying heavier loads are less susceptible to jackknifing since the weight helps in keeping the trailer aligned. With light or empty trailers, however, you need to be more careful.

Remember that the truck’s brakes are meant to stop full loads and are, therefore, too powerful for a truck that is underweight. Thus, when you apply them during such an emergency, they are likely to lock up and cause the truck to skid.

Brake Gradually to Avoid a Truck Accident

Braking suddenly, especially when driving large trucks, is a dangerous affair. Thus, you need to avoid scenarios that could cause you to slam on your brakes.

A few pointers include:

  • Drive a safe distance behind others so you can have time to react.
  • When driving downhill or on slippery roads, reduce your speed gradually by spreading your braking over a long distance.
  • Slow down as you approach curves.
  • Proper Maintenance

Always ensure that all your truck’s components are in excellent condition to handle all kinds of emergencies. Faulty or uneven brakes and suspension will only raise your risk of jackknifing.

How to Prevent Jackknifing as a Truck Driver

Avoiding a jackknife accident is everyone’s responsibility, starting with truck drivers. If you are employed as a commercial trucker, then there is no guarantee you received any training beyond what was required for your commercial driver’s license on how to prevent jackknife accidents. We would like to offer a quick refresher course that every trucker should know.

To prevent a jackknife accident as a commercial truck driver, you should:

  • Watch your mirrors frequently to see if your trailer is swinging or swaying. Adjust your speed or steering direction carefully to stop the trailer’s erratic movements.
  • Be aware that an empty trailer is lighter and, therefore, more likely to lose contact with the ground while in motion and start to jackknife.
  • When rounding a turn, brake before you enter the turn. Smaller cars can brake or accelerate during a turn, but this behavior can be hazardous for large tractor-trailers. Ideally, you will only brake while driving in a straight line.
  • If your trailer is starting to swing widely, avoid slamming the brakes. Taking your foot entirely off the brakes can help, assuming it is safe to do so.
  • In some situations, trailer sway can be corrected by increasing your speed gradually, adding more to your tractor’s pull strength and straightening out the trailer. Typically, increasing your speed will not help if it is the tractor or caravan that is shaking or swaying.

Please keep in mind that the above jackknife prevention tips also work for noncommercial drivers. For example, if you are towing a small trailer behind your vehicle during a move, then you should remember and apply all of these tips, too.

What to Do If You Are a Jackknife Crash Victim

Semi-tractor-trailer truck on the roadAt Fowler | Helser | Vogt, we understand how being involved in a serious truck accident such as a jackknife crash can be life-changing. Legal cases arising from these crashes are usually quite complex, and that is why you need an experienced and dedicated truck accident attorney handling your case.

Enlisting the services of an experienced truck accident attorney is likely going to determine the outcome of your case. This is because they know the right questions to ask in addition to having the resources necessary to perform a full investigation.


Have you or a loved one suffered from injuries resulting from a jackknife crash? It is time you spoke to a personal injury attorney who is experienced in handling trucking accidents. The attorneys at Fowler | Helsel | Vogt have years of experience helping injury victims during some of the hardest points in their lives. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you get the compensation you deserve.
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