What Causes Jackknife Truck Accidents?

February 9, 2021

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 5,000 fatal truck accidents occurred in the span of one recent year. Jackknife truck accidents caused many of these deaths. A jackknife truck accident happens when something causes the vehicle to deviate from its straight-line formation and then fold. The tractor folds into itself, much like a pocketknife. In some cases, the driver is able to correct the situation quickly and restore the trailer in its straightforward position.

When a truck jackknifes, it not only endangers the truck driver, but it also puts everyone traveling around them in harm’s way. Jackknife accidents often reach into other lanes and even into oncoming traffic. Trucks lose control and jackknife for multiple reasons. The following includes the most common causes of jackknife collisions.

Distracted Driving

In 2017, distracted driving played a part in nine percent of fatal motor vehicle accidents. Consider that it takes around four or five seconds to compose and send a brief text message. In that amount of time, a driver operating a commercial truck at 55 miles per hour can travel the length of an entire football field. When a driver is looking down at their phone instead of the road ahead, the results can be catastrophic.


Large tractor trailers require more time and distance to stop compared to smaller vehicles. Truck drivers operating vehicles at high speeds may have to slam on the brakes to avoid collisions. During a sudden stop, trucks are more likely to skid and jackknife out of control. In fact, driving just 10 miles per hour over the speed limit increases the chance of a jackknife accident by 49 percent.


The average commercial truck driver can put in 11 hours each day on the road and up to 3,000 miles a week. Long shifts and monotonous trips leave many drivers feeling fatigued. While there are hours of service regulations in place to ensure drivers get enough rest, there are no guarantees every individual behind the wheel is well-rested.

Fatigue compromises a person’s ability to focus, make sound decisions, and react quickly in emergency situations. A drowsy truck driver is more likely to take a turn too fast or stop short, causing a dangerous jackknife collision.

Poor Road Conditions

Hazardous road conditions, such as weather, potholes, and road debris, can cause trucks to lose traction and spin out of control.  Wet and icy roads reduce traction as well and increase the likelihood of a jackknife. When a truck driver loses traction, any cargo they contain is likely to shift and cause a jackknife or overturn accident.

Lack of Experience and Training

Driving a truck is considered one of the most dangerous occupations. The work is physically and mentally challenging. The chance of getting hurt in a truck accident is significantly higher than other types of collisions. For these reasons, a person seeking a commercial driver’s license (CDL) has to undergo extensive training.

The average CDL training program takes around seven weeks of full-time instruction in the classroom and on board the truck. From there, it takes a long period of time behind the wheel to become an expert driver. Without sufficient training and real-world practical experience, truckers may not know how to best handle a jackknife event to prevent injuries.

Tight Turns

Sharp curves are considerably more challenging for truck drivers to navigate compared to other motorists. As the front section of the truck rounds the turn, if the back end of the truck is not aligned properly, it can swing out in the opposite direction and jackknife. Instead of braking on turns, drivers should gradually reduce speed along the long stretch of road approaching the curve.

What Injuries Result from Jackknife Truck Accidents?

Truck accidents are far more likely to cause serious injuries than other types of collisions. The size and weight of the truck are major factors. The average truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Due to their size, trucks are harder to stop quickly. The victim in a truck accident may bear the brunt of the force, leaving significant injuries and property damage.

Common jackknife truck accident injuries include:

  • Contusions
  • Lacerations
  • Puncture wounds
  • Neck and spine damage
  • Broken bones
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
  • Paralysis
  • Amputations
  • Strains and sprains

A truck collision injury is likely to seriously compromise a victim’s quality of life for days, weeks, and even years after a devastating jackknife accident. Recovery can be costly and require surgery, medications, and physical therapy.

Tips for Preventing Jackknife Accidents

Proper training plays a crucial in preventing countless truck accidents every year. Truck drivers should do the following to prevent accidents:

  • Follow at a safe distance for more time to react.
  • Take curves and turns slowly.
  • Reduce speed gradually on hills and wet or slippery roadways.
  • Frequently check mirrors for trailer swing.
  • Consider installing anti-lock brakes on the tractor, trailer, or both.
  • Inspect and perform routine maintenance to keep trucks running safely.
  • Pay attention and avoid distractions when driving.

What Should I Do if I am Hit by a Truck Driver?

Any motor vehicle accident can be traumatic. When a wreck involves a large truck, a crash can be even more horrific. After a truck accident, remember these steps to stay safe and protect a future legal claim:

Get Help: Assess everyone at the scene for injuries, and call 9-1-1 to report the jackknife accident. Do not move anyone who is in pain or shock. Moving someone with internal injuries can be risky and lead to more serious health complications.

File a Police Report: Calmly and honestly describe the events leading up to the accident to the police officer at the scene. If the truck driver was swerving, speeding, or following too closely, it is important to mention those details.

Call Insurance Company: Reporting an accident to the insurance company is a necessary step, but proceed with caution. Anything said at this time can be used to prove liability for the crash. It is always a good idea to speak with a lawyer before communicating with an insurance adjuster.

Exchange Contact Information: Exchange names, phone numbers, and driver license and insurance information with any drivers and passengers involved in the jackknife accident. Take down the make, model, and license plate of the vehicles as well.

Receive Medical Care: If emergency medical attention is not immediately necessary at the scene, it is still a good idea for everyone involved to get a full check-up as soon as possible; some truck accident injuries develop or worsen over time. Save all medical records, including doctor bills, prescriptions, and tests that may be used for future litigation.

Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer: It always makes sense to seek the counsel of a reputable truck accident lawyer after a jackknife crash. A skilled lawyer takes time to carefully evaluate the case and recommend the best course of action to recover compensation for pain and suffering, medical costs, and lost income.

A jackknife truck accident can be emotionally and physically traumatic. Yet, with excellent medical care and high-quality legal representation, an injured victim can begin the healing process. A legal claim is one way to pursue financial damages.

Virginia Beach Truck Accident Lawyers Fight for Fair Compensation for Injured Clients

Professional truck drivers should have the skills and training to operate their vehicles safely to prevent accidents; however, reckless drivers are still causing collisions. If you were recently injured in a jackknife truck accident, contact a Virginia Beach truck accident lawyer right away. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we are committed to using every legal tool available to recover damages for our injured clients. Call us at 757-352-2237 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.

381 Edwin Drive
Virginia Beach, VA 23462
Ph: 757-352-2237 | Fax: 757-352-2220