What are the Common Jackknife Truck Accident Causes and Injuries

April 14, 2023 | Ed Bernstein
What are the Common Jackknife Truck Accident Causes and Injuries

Trucks travel billions of highway miles each year to deliver goods from place to place. Whether raw materials from forests, farms, or mines or finished goods from factories to stores, Americans rely on trucking for almost everything. Trucks and how we use them have evolved over the last century, revolutionizing production and delivery efficiency for modern life.

Several things that haven’t changed: Trucks are bigger and heavier than other vehicles, so when they crash, they do more damage. They require more training and care to operate. And while their unique cab-and-trailer design increases maneuverability at low speeds, carelessly turning at high speeds, on slick roads, or in heavy winds can cause jackknife accidents and injuries. If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, a qualified truck accident lawyer can help you navigate the legal system and get the compensation you deserve.

Crucial Components of Tractor Trailers

A tractor-trailer consists of three crucial elements.

  • The tractor is the vehicle that contains the power plant of the operation.
  • The second element is a large diesel motor capable of pulling incredible amounts of weight contained by the trailer, coupled with an articulated fifth-wheel hitch that allows the truck to corner and travel at highway speeds for long durations throughout just about any weather or climate.
  • The third element of the tractor-trailer is the driver. As with any combination of man and machine, the driver requires training, rest, and sustenance to operate safely and efficiently.

At any point, the system can fail with devastating results. Truck accidents are some of the scariest and most deadly situations you might experience. Serious trucking accidents can change your life forever.

What Is a Jackknife Truck Accident?

Jackknife accidents happen for various reasons, from mechanical failure, human error, road conditions, or a combination. A jackknife truck accident can best be described as when something causes the truck and the trailer to pivot at the hitch to form an acute angle—much like the shape of a folded jackknife.

Jackknifing usually leaves the truck incapacitated, as the trailer’s angle binds the line of motion. Moving the truck requires disconnecting the tractor from the trailer or somehow towing the tractor to align it with the trailer again.

Jackknife truck accidents are dangerous for several reasons. Since the angle of the truck overrides the driver’s control, it can veer into oncoming traffic or cover several travel lanes. Trucks carry incredible weight, even when not loaded with freight. A vehicle of that size and weight can cause serious problems for other drivers.

Possible Causes of a Jackknife Truck Accident

When the direction of the tractor differs from the direction of the trailer, a jackknife can happen. The truck might skid or lose velocity faster than the trailer, dropping behind it, or the trailer might pass ahead of the tractor’s speed. The articulated hitch acts as a pivot, and the whole truck folds on the road. The most possible causes of truck accidents are described below.


A truck can jackknife due to any number of causes:

  • Icy or slippery conditions: Highway conditions, especially during rainstorms, standing water, snow, or ice, can cause the tractor to spin out and skid. Without a surface to provide traction for braking, the trailer can travel out of line and jackknife. Trailer brakes can also lock on the ice, resulting in the trailer trying to slide ahead of the truck.
  • Wind: High winds can cause trucks to lose control at highway speeds. High winds hitting a truck’s high-profile sides can cause the trailer to tip over or fishtail. When this happens, the truck can jackknife or even dump over.
  • Braking: Trucks rely on various systems of brakes to control their massive weight. Engine brakes slow the truck down by using drag on the motor itself, whereas air brakes and hydraulic brakes activate drum and disk brakes on both the trailer and the tractor. Malfunctions in the brake lines can result in brake failures, causing disproportionate braking between tractor and trailer or skidding.
  • Worn brakes: Truckers must inspect their brakes regularly, and transportation laws mandate regular inspections and replacement of worn brake shoes and calipers to reduce the risk of accidents due to brake failures. Trucks traveling down steep grades might burn their brakes and find themselves out of control. When brakes are offset in how well they perform, this increases the chances of a truck jackknifing and losing control.
  • High speeds: When trucks travel over recommended speed limits, this can create instability, especially if they need to stop suddenly or are impacted by other vehicles or high winds. Excessive speeds give drivers very little time to react to changes in the road, and sudden braking or swerving could result in jackknifing. Combine poor road conditions with high speed and little time to stop, and you have a recipe for disaster.


Sometimes truck equipment can fail, resulting in jackknife accidents. Federal and state laws place requirements on trucking companies to prevent equipment failures. Regular inspections, maintenance, replacements, and even designated areas where drivers can inspect their vehicles contribute to public safety. Usually, if the equipment fails, it resulted from the trucking company’s negligence.

Truck maintenance is an expensive part of running a trucking company. Even though some failures are unavoidable, many are preventable if the trucking company properly upkeeps and maintains its vehicles.

Possible examples of equipment failure due to poor maintenance include:

  • Blowouts, coupling, brakes: Worn airlines, brakes, and tires can fail, leading to catastrophic results. Tire blowouts can cause a truck to lose control. Burnt brakes or broken brake lines can cause uneven braking.
  • Shifting loads: Equipment failure on straps, chains, or other stabilizers can cause loads to shift suddenly. Sometimes this shift in weight displacement can result in a jackknife accident.
  • Worn tires: Trucks need adequate traction for the entirety of their journey. Their tires must provide traction and stability from the heat of desert roads to frozen mountain passes. Bald tires, tires without chains, or damaged tires can fail and cause trailers to come out of alignment and jackknife the truck.


As the third component of the truck system, people play an essential part in maneuvering these massive vehicles and keeping others safe as they drive toward their destinations. More often than not, human error or disregard for safety laws, such improper training or loading, results in accidents. In such case, In such cases, you can hire a truck accident attorney to get compensation.

Human errors that cause jackknife accidents include:

  • Improperly loaded freight: How trucks are loaded is integral to how the vehicle travels. Disproportionate weight distribution can result in shifting loads or even impact how the trailer handles as it is pulled behind the tractor.
  • Bad driving: Truck drivers must pass a series of tests and complete training to become certified drivers. Inexperienced or inept drivers might find their trucks jackknifed due to impaired driving. Bad judgment and improperly backing up a truck can result in jackknife incidents. Some trucking companies hire sub-par drivers to save a buck and lower expenses.
  • Sleep deprivation/substance use: Drivers running long hours without sleep or using substances to sustain driving pose a serious threat to the safety of other vehicles on the road. Usually, accidents caused by sleep deprivation or substance abuse happen as a result of physical and mental exhaustion and distraction. Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel might swerve and jackknife their trucks, causing accidents.
  • Overloaded truck: Overloading a truck to save money on freight costs can result in bad trailer travel and jackknife accidents. Violating regulations can result in expensive losses due to accidents with other vehicles and enormous damages due to hospital bills and even deaths.
  • Underloaded truck: Underloaded trucks can get unruly on the road, especially in high winds or when traveling at higher speeds. Some freight is oversized in volume but low in mass, which makes them very dangerous to other drivers sharing the roads.

Types of Accidents Caused by Jackknifed Trucks

Collisions with jackknifed trucks are hazardous. The extreme weight and size of these vehicles traveling at highway speeds, suddenly changing direction, and taking up even more space can be deadly. Jackknife accidents might result in the trailer spanning several lanes of traffic, causing pileups, and increasing the range of damage to other vehicles.

Here are some accidents caused by jackknifed trucks.

  • Under-rides: Federal and state laws require under-ride guards on the back of trailers; however, they don’t require them for the full length of the trailer. A jackknifed truck might present a situation where lower-profile cars could broadside the truck and drive under the side of the trailer. Under-ride accidents result in high fatalities and injuries that can seriously maim drivers of smaller vehicles.
  • Pileups: Jackknifed trucks block several lanes of traffic and cause pileups. Other vehicles, especially other trucks, might not have enough distance or time to stop, especially in poor visibility. In this case, the chances a vehicle could be struck by another vehicle increase exponentially in a pileup situation.
  • Rollovers: Trucks can jackknife and then roll over. The resulting damage could injure other drivers with fragments of the truck, debris, or even freight that has come loose in the rollover.
  • Fires: Breaching the trailer in a jackknife accident, especially when carrying hazardous material, can result in chemical spills or fires

Injuries From a Jackknife Truck Accident

When it comes to truck accidents, many types of injuries that happened to anyone involved are often severe or even fatal. Truck accidents can be life-altering events for any survivors. The raw tonnage and speeds at which trucks travel combine to create a deadly cocktail of force very few vehicles sharing the road can withstand.

Here are some typical injuries resulting from jackknife truck accidents.

  • Crush injuries: From under-ride collisions to being in the path of a rollover, smaller vehicles are susceptible to being crushed under the weight of trucks. The passengers inside the vehicles may find themselves crushed under the weight of both truck and whatever freight it was carrying.
  • TBIs: Traumatic Brain Injuries can occur whenever the brain is jolted inside the skull. The bruising and shearing of blood vessels and resulting pressure can continue to cause brain damage until addressed by surgery or medication. TBIs can cause permanent cognitive disabilities, loss of motor function, and even death.
  • Whiplash: The force of an impact in a truck collision can result in snapping the head back and forth on the neck. People suffering from whiplash might experience chronic pain, loss of sensation in their extremities, and even paralysis.
  • Broken bones: The force exerted on a body during a truck collision is more than enough to snap a bone in your body. Compound and spiral fractures are common in truck accidents, which may require surgery and persist in chronic pain and even loss of mobility and range of movement.
  • Excessive bleeding: The twisted metal, broken glass, and force of the impact during a truck accident can cause severe lacerations, internal hemorrhaging, and even amputation of limbs and other extremities. Enough blood loss can result in brain death and cognitive disabilities, not to mention death.
  • Burns: When smaller vehicles are trapped against a jackknifed truck, fuel, and chemical spills can result in fires or contact burns. Burns can cause permanent disfigurement and even death.
  • Death: Loss of life is common in jackknife accidents involving trucks and other vehicles.

Damages to Consider

Jackknife truck accidents are serious, and the lives of people involved in accidents of this kind may be changed forever. The heroic measures taken to save the lives of people in these kinds of accidents come with a high price, not only monetarily but psychologically.

From the ambulance trip or flight to the hospital, the road to recovery is painful and expensive. Survivors of truck accidents will likely lose time at work due to their injuries, either from the time it takes to recover or from finding themselves disabled permanently.

All the while, the bills stack up as the victims try to make sense of what their lives have become.

Trucking companies have a duty to ensure the safety of their drivers and anyone who shares the road with them. All too often, jackknife accidents happen because trucking companies cut corners. Insurance companies are also reluctant to part with their profits, making it extremely difficult and stressful to pay victims of trucking accidents the compensation they deserve.

Rehabilitation, physical therapy, prosthetics, and pain and suffering are all part of the aftermath of a truck accident. Dealing with the trauma requires fortitude when it comes to the physical and psychological drain on the survivors. Those who didn’t survive leave a gaping hole in the lives of their loved ones and likely a loss of financial security on top of their grief.

Ed Bernstein - Car Accident Attorney near Las Vegas NV, area
Ed Bernstein, Truck Accident Lawyer in Las Vegas

Contact an Attorney

Contacting a truck accident attorney is essential. Most cases handled by a personal injury lawyer in Las Vegas provide higher settlement amounts provide higher settlement amounts than pre-trial offers given by insurance companies.

You owe it to yourself and your family during your recovery to reduce your stress and uncertainty after a truck accident, so hire an attorney to fight for you.


Ed Bernstein

Edward M. Bernstein, Esq. is the owner and founding partner of Edward M. Bernstein & Associates, and one of the most recognizable figures in Nevada. Ed is one of state’s premier personal injury attorneys and has hosted The Ed Bernstein Show for over 31 years. He has served the Las Vegas community for decades with dozens of community appointments and terms of service. In the year 2000, he was Nevada’s Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.

Ed received his B.A. from Long Island University in 1971 and his J.D. from Widener University in 1975. Since then, Ed’s professional accolades include numerous publications, honors and awards, court appointments, and has been named one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.