While all roadway accidents involving tractor-trailers can be dangerous, few are as frightening as a jackknife big-rig crash. In this scenario, the trailer and the cab (the part where the driver sits) are facing different directions and the big-rig may even flip over.
When a tractor-trailer is stretched out over the roadway, there is a limited amount of time to react and the potential for multi-car pile-ups and rear end accidents is significant.
What is a Jackknife Accident?
Many times you may sit in traffic for very long periods of time before eventually coming across the jackknifed big rig sprawling across the roadway. Other times, you may actually see it happen – and it is surreal. You have to pinch yourself to ensure you’re not just having a bad nightmare!
An eighteen-wheeler ahead of you veers to the left, swerves to the right and then in a flash, flips and lays on its side covering many, if not all, lanes of traffic. So how does this even happen?
What Causes a Tractor-Trailer to Jackknife?
- Traveling at a high rate of speed: when these colossal trucks are barreling down the roadway, they require a significant amount of force to stop. If the tractor-trailer operator misjudged the amount of time and space he would need to stop and slams on the brakes, the trailer axles can lock before the tractor axles, causing the big rig’s trailer to swing out and jackknife;
- Cut-off: if another vehicle on the highway veers in front of the tractor-trailer and the truck slams on its brakes as described above, a jackknife accident can happen;
- Trucking companies are “for-profit” businesses and truckers are often under pressure to get their loads to their intended destination quickly. Therefore, the trucking companies indirectly put pressure on the long-haul truckers to speed and exceed their hours-of-service limits as set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration;
- Weather conditions: when the weather conditions get bad due to snow, rain or sleet and the roads ice up, the eighteen-wheeler can lose control and even the slightest skid can cause a rollover. The load inside of the trailer can shift causing the slide;
- Inadequate maintenance or equipment failure: like your own car, these big-rigs have to be properly maintained for safe operation. Any system failure like brakes or hydraulics may cause the driver to lose control of his eighteen-wheeler. Whether the rig jackknifes or tips over, it’s dangerous for both the operator of the tractor-trailer and other vehicles on the road.
Catastrophic Injuries Can Result From Jackknife Accidents
If you’re involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer that jackknifed, your injuries may include spinal injuries, broken bones requiring surgery, traumatic brain injuries and scarring. Fatalities are seen more often in jackknife accidents than in other roadway crashes.
It’s not always straightforward where liability lies in a big-rig accident. The driver may have violated traffic laws or have been driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The trucking company may even be at fault for not properly training the rig operator or requiring excessive hours of driving, or a defective part may have caused the accident.