Tractor-trailer semi-trucks are a vital part of our transportation/supply system. However, weather, drivers that are not careful and/or well-trained can cause dangerous and sometimes fatal accidents. One type of accident resulting from truck driver negligence is the jackknife accident. Jackknife accidents are extremely catastrophic because they can involve numerous vehicles. Almost all of them involve life-altering or fatal injuries. Here’s what to know about these violent truck crashes.
A jackknife occurs when the trailer of semi-truck swings to one side at a 90-degree angle and uncontrollably overtakes other lanes of traffic. The term comes from the look of the tractor-trailer after the crash resembling a jackknife or the letter L. When a jackknife wreck happens, the trailer and cab can hit and crush other vehicles in its path. It can also block numerous lanes leading to additional collisions. Jackknife crashes can also be considered rollover crashes when the truck slides and rolls over onto its side, although not all rollovers end in a jackknife.
Jackknife collisions are often either the cause of driver negligence or inclement weather, other distracted drivers, truck maintenance, or a combination. These include the following:
- If a truck driver is speeding, the trailer can slide sideways and jackknife when forced to stop too quickly.
- The average tractor-trailer weighs about 80,000 pounds.
- The average length of a trailer is between 70 – 80 feet.
- Tractor-trailer trucks need 40% more time to brake.
- If drivers do not take it slow enough, bad weather or road conditions can also cause a jackknife.
- Ice, snow, rain, loose gravel, or loose asphalt can cause trailers to bounce and slide.
- Hazardous road conditions, as accumulated oil can cause slipperiness.
Improper Following Distance
- Truck drivers that do not provide an adequate following distance to allow for a safe stopping distance can cause the trailer to slide sideways and jackknife when having to slam on the brakes.
- Drivers who do not exercise caution as they enter and properly maneuver down hills or curves can end up shifting out of position and possibly topple over.
Driver Operator Fatigue
- Many tractor-trailer accidents/crashes happen when drivers have logged too many hours without proper rest.
- When the body is tired, response time suffers.
- If a driver is groggy, they lack the cognizance to maneuver out of a dangerous situation.
Inexperienced or Untrained Operators
- Driving a truck is a demanding job that requires several skill sets and experience.
- Truck companies try to lower costs by using inexperienced drivers that don’t have the training or experience for long hauls or driving on busy/dangerous highways and interstates.
- Safe truck driving ensures the trailer’s cargo is loaded correctly and the weight is equally distributed.
- When the load is unbalanced, it can shift, causing the trailer to tilt or tip.
- Unbalanced loads are a common factor in rollover crashes.
Lack of Maintenance
- Drivers or companies that ignore:
- Routine maintenance
- Alignment checks
- Brake pad replacement
- All can lead to accidents and crashes.
Research shows that jackknife crashes can cause widespread damage, as they usually spread across multiple lanes of traffic. Because of this, there is the danger of secondary crashes or vehicles not initially involved in the crash, running into the tractor, trailer, or scattered wreckage and debris.
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Gray, Garry. “A bird’s eye view of driving safety culture: Truck drivers’ perceptions of unsafe driving behaviors near their trucks.” Work (Reading, Mass.) vol. 64,2 (2019): 187-194. doi:10.3233/WOR-192985
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Stavrinos, Despina et al. “Commercial Truck Driver Health and Safety: Exploring Distracted Driving Performance and Self-Reported Driving Skill.” Workplace health & safety vol. 64,8 (2016): 369-76. doi:10.1177/2165079915620202
Stein, H S, and I S Jones. “Crash involvement of large trucks by configuration: a case-control study.” American Journal of public health vol. 78,5 (1988): 491-8. doi:10.2105/ajph.78.5.491
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