What Causes an 18-Wheeler Truck to Jackknife ?

What Causes an 18-Wheeler Truck to Jackknife ?
September 18, 2013 Gary

“Jacknife” 18-wheeler truck accidents occur frequently on the roadways and highways of Louisiana.  When a truck jackknifes, this means the truck skids uncontrollably after the driver brakes suddenly. The drive wheels lock down when they reach a slick spot while the front wheels and trailer keep moving. The trailer then shifts outward, coming to a halt to form a 90 degree angle with the truck. The jackknife is the worst accident for an eighteen wheel truck other than a rollover caused by over-correction.   The braking system of a large commercial truck is considerably different from that of a smaller passenger car. A truck driver who encounters a situation in which the brakes must be applied basically has three choices:

  • The steering axle brakes can be locked which will move the rig straight ahead no matter what angle the wheel is at. This gives the driver no ability to guide the truck but may keep the truck moving straight ahead.
  • When the drive axles are locked it is almost a given that a jackknife accident will occur.
  • If the trailer brakes are locked all directional control is lost which will result in serious trailer swing.

In order to avoid a potentially tragic jackknife very even brake pressure must be applied—but stopped short of locking down the brakes. ABS brakes solve this sort of problem in passenger vehicles but most big commercial trucks are not equipped with this type of braking system. Any time a truck jackknifes the consequences can be deadly for the driver as well as other drivers on the road. If the trailer is loaded with hazardous cargo, the dangers are compounded. Since a truck will jackknife   in virtually the blink of an eye, surrounding vehicles have little opportunity to take evasive actions. This means vehicles which are unable to come to a stop may end up skidding under the truck trailer or crashing into the truck.

Why the Accident Occurred

Driver error, distraction, negligence or reckless driving could be responsible for a jackknifed truck. Other causes include inclement weather, improper use of the truck’s braking system, equipment failure, excess speeds or hazardous road conditions. When the brakes of the truck are applied suddenly, the truck may go into a skid which can in turn lead to a jackknifed truck. Should the driver downshift too quickly, or accelerate unexpectedly on a slippery surface, the result can be the same.

Inexperienced Truck Drivers

Drivers of large commercial trucks must obtain a commercial driver’s license (or CDL) as well as participate in a training program. This program is meant to inform the driver of all applicable regulations  and to provide instruction on the handling and maneuvering of a loaded 80,000 pound vehicle. Truckers who transport hazardous materials must go through even more training in order to deliver those loads. Despite these requirements, many truck drivers get behind the wheel of the large commercial truck without the necessary experience which would allow them to cope with the vast array of driving conditions truckers regularly encounter. They may not realize that it takes about a 40% longer distance to stop a large truck than a passenger automobile.

Any type of reckless behavior or inattention can result in a serious or fatal accident due to the sheer size of the truck as well as the fact that the truck does not handle like a smaller vehicle. Trucking companies must be vigilant in ensuring that every single trucker they place on the roadways has the training and experience necessary to deal with any situation which may arise, including the necessity of braking suddenly without jackknifing.

If you were injured by a jackknifed truck, whether due to an inexperienced driver or other factors, Louisiana attorney Gary P. Koederitz at Koederitz Law Firm wants to help. We have over three decades of experience and will work hard to ensure that you are fully compensated for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and all other damages. Call (225) 295-9494 today to discuss your case with a knowledgeable attorney.