What Causes Jackknife Truck Accidents?

by Staff | May 4th, 2022

Jackknifing is a common type of trucking accident where the trailer of an articulated vehicle, such as a semi-truck, skids and spins toward the front. The trailer slides and pivots sharply, essentially folding over the vehicle.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, California ranks second in the nation for fatal truck accidents. Commercial vehicles, like articulated trucks, are extremely heavy, often carrying up to 10,000 pounds or more of inventory and materials. The weight and size of these vehicles contribute to the severity of this type of crash.

During a jackknifing accident, the truck driver loses control of the vehicle. The trailer can swing across the road, causing multi-car collisions resulting in severe property damage, catastrophic injuries, and loss of life.

If you’re involved in a trucking accident from a jackknifing incident, it’s vital to hire the services of skilled California truck accident lawyers. Truck accident lawsuits are highly complex and require experienced attorneys to ensure you get maximum compensation.

What Causes Jackknifing Accidents?

Jackknifing can occur for several reasons. A semi-truck, also called a tractor-trailer, consists of two parts: the tractor (front), where the engine and cab are located, and the trailer, where the cargo is stored.

If the trailer skids away from the tractor, it can slide to form a 90-degree angle, often sending the truck sprawling across the road or even overturning. This type of accident is called jackknifing because the appearance resembles a pocketknife blade sliding into its handle.

Some of the leading causes of jackknifing accidents in California include:

How the cargo is loaded

Loading and unloading commercial vehicles is one of the most important factors for road safety. If the inventory isn’t secured correctly, it can alter the balance of the trailer. Shifting weight is extremely dangerous at higher speeds and when the truck turns. The momentum caused by shifting cargo can cause a skid, leading to jackknifing.

An empty trailer is just as dangerous as the weight of the cargo prevents the trailer from sliding around or shifting in high winds while holding it to the road. A semi-truck without cargo is at a greater risk of jackknifing. If workers don’t load the truck properly, they can be held legally responsible for an accident.


Tractor-trailers are built with multiple braking mechanisms, helping keep all vehicle parts under control. The drive axles, steering axles, and trailer axles must work in unison to ensure the truck stays balanced on the road.

Truck operators must be skilled drivers, capable of braking effectively in all weather conditions. If the driver brakes incorrectly or too aggressively, the axles can lock up, causing the truck to skid and jackknife. Newer truck drivers may not have the experience needed to safely brake the truck in unexpected conditions, causing an accident.

Road conditions

Hazardous road conditions are a leading cause of jackknifing. Rain, snow, and ice reduce traction on the road, making it difficult for trucks to get traction. Road spray, loose materials from engines, tire kickup, and materials from nearby land can also reduce grip and cause a skid.

With the national shortage of commercial truck drivers and the increased demand on shipping, trucking companies may encourage their truck operators to drive through adverse conditions to prevent delays. This raises the risk of truck accidents, including jackknifing.

Equipment failure

Commercial vehicles should be maintained meticulously, especially when carrying heavy loads over hundreds of miles. Braking and mechanical systems must undergo frequent inspections and maintenance to ensure trucks are safe and roadworthy.

If a driver or the trucking company fails to inspect their vehicles before operating or doesn’t follow routine maintenance, they can be held liable if an equipment failure causes an accident.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Rules and Regulations

The FMCSA outlines several guidelines to help keep motorists and truck drivers safe. For example, scheduling regulations prohibit drivers from working too many consecutive hours to prevent drowsiness. All trucks must be adequately maintained and loaded correctly.

Unfortunately, not all trucking companies abide by these rules, increasing the risk of an accident. Tight schedules, monetary targets, and delivery demands mean that many organizations overlook certain safety aspects, contributing to trucking accidents.

What You Should Know if You’re Involved in a Crash

If you’re involved in a truck accident that wasn’t your fault, you may be entitled to compensation. The truck driver isn’t the only individual who can be held responsible. The trucking company, vehicle owner, engine parts manufacturer, and road safety authorities may also be at fault.

If any of these individuals or entities acted negligently and their actions were directly responsible for your injuries, you can file a truck accident lawsuit. This legal claim allows you to recover compensation from the responsible party, such as medical costs, vehicle damage, and loss of income.

The state of California recognizes a pure comparative fault law for auto accidents. This statute means that you’re entitled to damages according to your degree of fault in the incident. If the truck driver was 100% responsible for the crash, you may claim 100% of the damages, but if the truck driver was only 80% at fault, you will only receive 80% of your compensation.

Get Legal Help for Your Truck Accident Case

Many trucking companies have legal professionals dedicated to protecting their drivers and businesses. This makes it more challenging when building a case after an accident with a large truck. It’s critical you hire a qualified and experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident to represent you and build your case. 

At Berg Injury Lawyers, our attorneys understand the devastating impact of a truck accident. We’ll work with you to determine your expenses and ensure your compensation factors in any changes to your quality of life.

Schedule your free consultation today to get started.