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What Causes a Truck to Jackknife?

Grimes & Fertitta > Personal Injury  > Vehicle Accidents  > What Causes a Truck to Jackknife?

What Causes a Truck to Jackknife?

what causes a truck to jackknife

If you’ve ever seen a multi-lane 18-wheeler accident, you might have wondered to yourself, “What causes a truck to jackknife?” But if you’ve ever had to file a personal injury case involving a  jackknifed truck, that simple question can become deeply personal. 

As much as we all rely on truck drivers to keep our businesses stocked and our economy moving, truck accidents are still a dangerous reality for Texas drivers. In 2017 alone, TXDOT reported that trucks and truck tractors/semi-trucks were involved in 1,464 serious injury crashes. This number accounts for a significant amount of the total number of car crashes in Houston.

And while any truck accident can be extremely dangerous, jackknife accidents are some of the most common (and most hazardous) truck accidents—both for the truck driver and other motorists. If you or a loved one were involved in a jackknife accident, take a moment to learn what causes a truck to jackknife and how these different causes may contribute to a personal injury truck accident case. 

Need more info? Give Grimes & Fertitta a call, or explore more of our online resources, ranging from an outline of how a car accident lawyer in The Woodlands and Houston can help your case to answers to FAQs, such as “What is a wrongful death lawsuit?

What does it mean for a truck to jackknife?

To conceptualize what causes a truck to jackknife, it’s important to understand some of the basics of 18-wheeler design. On most trucks, the trailer and rig/cab aren’t fixed to one another. Instead, the trailer attaches to a hitch that allows it to move freely and turn with the truck. 

When a truck jackknifes, the cab loses control of the trailer, causing it to swing out at an opposing 90° angle, similar to the way the blade of a jackknife opens out from its handle. In other words, the truck bends from a straight line into an L or a V shape.  

At best, the resulting mess can cause multiple lanes of traffic to be blocked by the spun out 18-wheeler. At worst, jackknife accidents can result in deadly multi-car pile-ups.

Understanding what causes a truck to jackknife on the road

Despite many advances in truck design and safety over the years, what causes a truck to jackknife has pretty much remained the same. These common causes of jackknifing and the resulting dangerous accidents include: 

  • Road and weather conditions: Wet, slippery roads, steep inclines or any other conditions that complicate turning or can cause skidding can considerably increase a truck’s risk of jackknifing.
  • Driving and braking too quickly: The most common cause of jackknife accidents occurs when a driver is going fast and brakes very suddenly—usually to avoid another car or debris on the road. Due to the combination of the truck’s weight (up to 80,000 pounds) and speed, even quality brakes sometimes can’t sufficiently stop the trailer, causing the wheel axles to lock and the trailer to swing out.
  • Brake issues: Truckers are required by law to maintain their trucks, but insufficient or improper brake maintenance still occurs. Again, if a truck’s brakes are in poor condition, then the axles on a truck are more likely to lock up when a driver needs to brake hard. When this occurs, the trailer gets dragged behind the cab. It then falls out of line and into a jackknife position.

  • A collision: In some instances, a truck will jackknife in the aftermath of a collision with debris or another vehicle. 

Oftentimes, two core factors are behind all of the common causes of jackknifing: Driver inexperience and/or unsafe working conditions. Although the circumstances contributing to a jackknife accident may seem beyond control to the average car driver, a trained truck driver is supposed to know how to properly handle the difficult situations that can lead to jackknifing. 

The risk of jackknife accidents increases with inexperience and is compounded by a lack of training, a surplus of fatigue, and trucking companies pushing deadlines. 

What to do after a jackknife accident

An accident involving a jackknifed 18-wheeler can be terrifying. After an accident, what causes a truck to jackknife and your personal injury claims are often the furthest things from your mind. 

However, as long as you are safe and able, it’s vital that you take certain precautions—both for the safety of others and for the quality of evidence available. 

  • Call for help: A jackknife truck accident is not something that will clear up on its own. Even if you or the other driver(s) involved feel ok in the moment, it remains critical that you call emergency personnel to provide care and assess the situation.
  • Identify the facts of the situation: No one expects you to play detective immediately following a serious accident, but it is still good to try and take some mental snapshots to the best of your ability. Try to take stock of the logos/operator names of the truck involved, see if there are any witnesses around, and take pictures (if possible) of the accident. All of these things can be incredibly helpful should you need to file a claim against following a jackknife accident.

  • Contact an experienced truck accident lawyer: Unfortunately, for anyone involved in a jackknife accident, the collision is probably just the beginning of your troubles. The true extent of your injuries and damages can take time to emerge, and the insurance companies won’t exactly encourage you to take your time. As soon as you’re in a safe place, contact a truck accident lawyer in The Woodlands before you agree to speak to the insurance companies.

If anyone presses you to talk, you have the right to wait. Just politely say “I’m happy to cooperate, but I need to speak to my lawyer first.” 

How a Houston & The Woodlands truck accident lawyer can help your case

All vehicle owners and operators have a duty to drive safely and lawfully on the road. This includes knowing what causes a truck to jackknife and knowing how to avoid those conditions. 

Jackknife accidents can be genuinely unavoidable tragedies, but this is not always the case. We put lives at risk when inexperienced, poorly trained, or otherwise impaired truck drivers go too fast or operate poorly maintained equipment and can’t respond to changing circumstances. We must hold those responsible accountable.

That said, the circumstances that lead up to a jackknife accident can be complex and multifaceted. Getting to the bottom of what went wrong often requires both the legal knowledge of an experienced truck accident attorney and the insight of independent analysts, accident reconstructionists, and expert witnesses. 

Together, your lawyer and their team can examine every factor at play in your accident and will work to determine what actually happened in the accident and build a case that stands up to the stalling and denial tactics you may be facing from the insurance companies.  

Hurt in a jackknife truck accident in Houston or The Woodlands? Grimes & Fertitta can help fight back.

As experienced truck accident attorneys in The Woodlands and Houston, the team at Grimes & Fertitta are well-versed in the ins and outs of what causes a truck to jackknife, how to interpret jackknife accidents, and how to take on trucking companies. We know the right questions to ask to ensure trucking companies are held accountable and to determine which of the many types of personal injury claims to pursue. 

And we didn’t just gain this experience in the courtroom—as former insurance company lawyers, we know exactly how those teams operate to protect their bottom line.

If you or a loved one have been hurt in a jackknife accident or any other truck accident, the time to act is now. No matter how severe your injuries may be, you only have two years from the date of your accident to file a claim. And if you don’t already have a lawyer, the people you’re up against most certainly do.

Now that you know what causes a truck to jackknife, don’t put your wellbeing in the hands of the insurance companies; hire a team that will fight for you and your best interest. Contact The Woodlands truck accident attorneys at Grimes & Fertitta today by calling 713-224-7644 or scheduling a free consultation online today.


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