You’ve probably heard the term “jackknife” in relation to a semitruck or similar commercial vehicle. However, have you ever really stopped to think about what this kind of incident is like? These kinds of trucking accidents are common enough to be well-known, but few people really plan and prepare for encountering one when driving on the freeway or highway. Truck drivers may prepare for them, but generally that means harm reduction practices for when they’ve already lost control of their vehicle.
For other drivers, a jackknifing commercial truck can pose a serious threat of bodily harm. These vehicles are either moving in and out of control or have come to a stop in the roadway, blocking critical lanes of traffic. Depending on weather conditions and the location of the jackknifed vehicle, there is the potential for many more vehicles to end up part of the jackknife accident. The people involved could experience serious injuries and financial losses.
How to define a jackknife accident
In order to really understand the risks associated with jackknifed commercial trucks, you need to first understand clearly what a jackknife incident is and what it is not. The most basic definition of jackknifing is when the trailer in back of the truck ends up moving differently than the cab component out front. Causes can include sudden stops, swerving or turning, or loss of traction due to slippery areas on the road.
The name jackknife comes from the way the two components of the vehicle often look during these events. Many times, the trailer will move in one direction, causing a dramatic bend where the trailer meets the main truck. The cab may get dragged behind the heavier trailer or spun out past it until the whole vehicle stops moving. An empty trailer could pose a similar, if different, issue for the driver.
You can’t prevent these crashes, but you can avoid them
Since you aren’t the one operating the commercial vehicle, there is little you can do to prevent a jackknife accident. That responsibility falls to the commercial driver, who should focus carefully on how he or she brakes and the condition of the roads.
Ideally, truckers should slow down when roads are slippery or wet. In reality, these professionals are almost always in a race against the clock to get a load to a drop-off point. Driving more slowly because of slick roads or weather could cost them bonuses or future work.
You can take steps to reduce your risk of involvement in a jackknife accident. When driving on fast-moving roads, such as freeways, always give commercial vehicles a wide berth. Ideally, you should avoid traveling right next to, in front of or behind a semitruck. When the roads are slippery or when the weather is bad, slow down before dramatic curves and other blind spots in the road. Doing that may give you a few extra seconds to stop if you unexpectedly encounter a jackknifed truck blocking the road.