UNITED STATES—Jackknifing a trailer is one of the most dangerous things that can occur on a freeway. This is true both for the driver of the tractor-trailer as well as any other drivers on the road.

Jackknifing is the process of a difference in traction between the tractor and the trailer, which leads the tractor-trailer to leave its standard straight-line configuration and fold into a V. This results in the tractor and trailer coming together like a pocket knife folding in on itself.

This diagram illustrates how a jackknife accident occurs. Jackknifing accidents frequently result in multiple car accidents and deaths. These accidents can cause a driver to panic when they start to notice what is occurring, but they are often easy to correct before any real harm has been done.

What Is the Main Cause of Jackknifing?

The main cause of jackknifing is a loss of traction. When the wheels of a tractor lose traction, but the trailer wheels do not, the trailer will continue pushing forward. If the tractor starts to tilt to one side or the other, it will continue to do so unless the driver can regain traction.

If, on the other hand, the trailer loses traction while the tractor is braking and the alignment is off at all between the two pieces, the trailer will begin to swing forward. This is particularly prevalent with empty trailers as, without the weight of a load, they have less connection between the wheels and the road and are more likely to lose traction.

In both cases, as long as the driver is paying attention and makes a quick adjustment from the outset, jackknifing can be avoided.

In cases where the tractor has lost traction during braking, releasing the brake briefly and letting the wheels spin free is often enough to allow the wheels to re-engage with the road. If the tractor loses traction during acceleration, releasing the gas is often enough to regain purchase on the road.

When the trailer begins to jackknife, acceleration will typically swing it back into place. It will usually regain traction momentarily after it has realigned.

What Should I Do if Involved in a Jackknifing Accident?

When involved in an accident due to a truck jackknifing next to you on the highway, you are most likely going to be in for a legal battle. Trucking companies are prepared to defend themselves from lawsuits, as big companies face dozens if not hundreds of these cases each year. They have a team of lawyers who know all the ins and outs of truck accident law.

In order to get a fair settlement, you are going to need an attorney on your side who has plenty of truck accident experience. Truck accidents tend to have a much higher rate of serious injury than other types of accidents. A serious lawyer is needed to handle a serious case.

Before you get to the point of worrying about a lawyer, though, there are many things that you will want to do following a jackknifing accident or any other type of car accident to ensure you are in the best position regarding your personal well-being and your legal standing. Steps to take immediately after an accident include:

  • Stopping your vehicle
  • Checking to see if anyone needs help
  • Talking to the police
  • Collecting information
  • Seeking medical attention
  • Contacting your insurance company
  • Contacting an attorney

Stopping Your Vehicle

If the accident has not already caused your vehicle to come to a stop, pull over to the side of the road and turn off your engine.

Checking to See if Anyone Needs Help

If you are uninjured or seem to be suffering only mild injuries, the first thing you will want to do is to check on the status of anyone else involved in the accident. If someone requires assistance, speak with a 911 operator and follow any instructions you may receive from them about providing help.

Talking to the Police

When the police arrive on the scene, you will need to file a report and give your statement.

Collecting Information

Speak with any other drivers involved in the accident and collect their contact information as well as their insurance info. Collect any other information you can about the vehicles involved and any other conditions of the scene that may have contributed to the accident. Speak to any witnesses and collect contact information.

The more information you can gain at the time of the accident, the easier you will make things on your attorney, who needs as much evidence as possible to win your case.

Seeking Medical Attention

In cases where your injuries are severe, you will skip all of the above steps and focus on this first. Your own safety and the safety of those in your vehicle should be your first priority. However, if your injuries were mild, or you appear to be uninjured, it is still in your best interest to consult with a professional to make sure that you are, in fact, unharmed.

Some injuries don’t present themselves immediately, and waiting to consult with a doctor can hurt your legal position.

Contacting Your Insurance Company

Even if you were not the at-fault driver, it is important to contact your insurance company after any accident.

Contacting An Attorney

After completing all of the above steps it is time to start thinking about the likely legal battle you have ahead of you and consult with a competent attorney to discuss your options.