People can agree there are very few things more terrifying than being involved in a motor vehicle crash with a much larger commercial motor vehicle. Research shows that one out of every ten deaths involving a motor vehicle crash on a U.S. highway/interstate involves a commercial motor vehicle. Crashes that involve commercial motor vehicles are always dangerous, but in this writer’s opinion, a deadly scenario occurs whenever a tractor trailer “jackknifes.”
A tractor trailer jackknifes whenever the trailer portion is caused to swing out to one side. If this occurs, the tractor and trailer portion of the commercial motor vehicle are blocking all available lanes of travel. A vehicle following the tractor trailer, if unable to stop fast enough, crashes. Any type of crash involving a much larger commercial motor vehicle has potential for catastrophic results since commercial motor vehicles on our highways can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Jackknife crashes are especially deadly – but also the most preventable.
Jackknife crashes can result from many different situations. The most common causes include:
Improper Brake Adjustment and Maintenance
If a truck’s brakes aren’t properly adjusted and maintained, the trailer axles can lock before the tractor axles during heavy braking. In this situation, the semi drags the trailer and its locked brakes, and the trailer swings out to the side as a result.
A commercial motor vehicle takes an incredible amount of force to stop, especially if the truck is traveling over 55 miles per hour. The faster the truck is going, the more likely it is that the driver will try to slam the brakes if they need to stop quickly. Slamming on the brakes often leads to the braking imbalance described above, especially in trucks with improperly set brakes.
Sharp Curves and Evasive Maneuvers
While slight curves shouldn’t pose a problem for most commercial trucks and drivers, evasive maneuvers combined with high speed and a steep angle can cause the trailer end to swing out and the entire truck to lose control. This is especially dangerous on two-lane roadways, one lane traveling in each direction, and a trailer is caused to swing into the opposite travel lane.
Slippery Weather Conditions and Roads
Any loss of traction can cause a truck’s weight to shift and lead both cab and trailer to slide. Given the massive weight and length of commercial trucks, a truck can jackknife from even the smallest of skids.
Driver Fatigue and Inexperience
One of the most significant and preventable causes of trucking accidents is driver fatigue, which lowers drivers’ reaction times and impairs their judgment. Unfortunately, trucking companies often encourage drivers to speed and exceed their hours-of-service limits despite the safety risks. In addition, trucking companies often hire drivers without training them adequately, which makes it more likely that they’ll panic or fail to respond properly when a dangerous situation comes up.
What can commercial vehicle operators do to decrease the risk of a jackknife crash? They can:
· Keep a safe distance between the truck and other vehicles on the road, especially in inclement weather.
· Don’t decelerate at turns or bends.
· Brake early and spread braking over the longest distance possible.
· Avoiding swerving and sudden evasive actions.
· Steer into a skid if it occurs.
What should you do if involved in a jackknife crash? You should hire an experienced attorney who regularly handles cases involving truck crashes. Such an attorney can make all the difference for the outcome of your case. A litigator experienced with truck crashes knows the right questions to ask when approaching your case -- and have the staff and expert resources needed to dig deeper and perform a full investigation into the collision that injured you.
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a jackknife crash, you should act quickly and contact Bordas & Bordas, PLLC so we can protect your legal rights. We will act quickly to prove negligence caused your injuries, obtain evidence like the truck’s onboard data recorder (which documents information about the tractor’s speed and the application of the brakes) as well as obtain statements from eyewitnesses, obtain the police report, your medical records, and much more. Such evidence will be vital in a trial or hearing. The trucking and insurance companies will move quickly to mount a defense, and statutes of limitation apply to truck wreck claims, so please don’t wait to act.