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What are Jackknife Accidents Caused by?

Truck accidents can be terrifying and oftentimes catastrophic. To avoid colliding with the biggest vehicles on the road, many drivers strive to avoid being near them at all costs. However, it is inevitable that you will be next to or in front of a big rig at some point during your travels. You may even witness or become involved in a jackknifing accident. If you or your loved one have been seriously harmed in a trucking accident, Montagna Law can help. Our Virginia truck accident attorneys are experienced and want to help you get compensation for your injuries.

What is Jackknifing?

Among the different types of accidents that can occur, jackknifing is unique to a semi-truck and can involve collisions with passenger vehicles. Jackknifing is when the trailers on larger trucks fold and swing in on themselves at a 90-degree angle and push the cab forward. The front of the truck or cab suddenly stops, and the attached out-of-control trailer continues moving and ends up sliding to one side. This action creates the shape of the folding blades of a pocket knife, giving the accident type its name.

 truck jackknife diagram

Where Do Jackknifing Accidents Mainly Occur?

Crash data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, show that jackknife accidents made up 2.5% of all truck accident cases in 2020. While this may not seem like a high amount, this type of accident is dangerous for both the commercial truck driver and any vehicles in the vicinity of the accident.

Jackknifing accidents can occur anywhere semi-trucks travel; however, they mainly occur on major highways and roads. In Virginia, these types of truck accidents are more likely to be found on I-81 or I-95 over a local road.

Trucks driving in high-traffic areas increase the chances of a jackknife occurring due to the volume of vehicles and even weather conditions. When one happens, several passenger cars can be involved in a crash and result in more injuries.

Why Does Jackknifing Happen?

Truck trailer jackknifing

Motor vehicle accidents, in general, can occur due to a variety of causes in Virginia. Jackknifing by big rigs, however, happens due to risk factors unique to large commercial trucks. These risk factors include size and weight.

More specifically, jackknifing usually happens because the large vehicle loses traction. The truck needs static friction between the tires and the ground to maintain traction. When that static friction is lost, the truck can begin to slide, with the tires failing to grip.

Here are the most common reasons for jackknifing to happen.


Improper braking, whether due to driver error or a faulty braking system, can lead to a skid and jackknifing. Slamming on the brakes can lock up the front tires, but the truck’s rear tires can keep moving, and the momentum can send it forward when the cab has already stopped.


Jackknife accidents can occur when a truck is traveling at high speed. Due to their size and weight, especially when full of cargo, trucks are harder to slow or stop when encountering an obstacle, such as a road barrier, or when approaching stopped traffic. Even tapping the brakes can cause sliding. Truckers are usually on a defined schedule and may travel at unsafe speeds to meet stringent delivery deadlines.

Road Conditions

Road conditions in Virginia can play a significant role in jackknifing accidents. Neglected or improperly maintained roadways, such as those with broken pavement, potholes, or obstructed shoulders, can cause jackknifing. Also, slippery roads due to ice or rain are dangerous for anyone, especially trucks. When tires come in contact with these surfaces, a solid grip will be difficult.

Quick Turns

Making quick turns is another reason a truck can jackknife. Turning the wheel quickly without considering the length and weight of the tractor-trailer can cause it to swing out as the truck steers in one direction. This swinging of the trailer can cause a car accident as those vehicles pass or remain in its path.

Empty Trailer

An empty trailer is lightweight compared to a full one and can more easily result in a jackknife. When the trailer is full of cargo, there will be more friction with the pavement. When it is empty or only partially loaded, there is less friction, and the trailer swings accidentally and moves forward.

When any of these cause a truck to jackknife, you only have seconds to react when nearby in a passenger vehicle. For this reason, you are at an extremely high risk of sustaining serious injuries. If this happens, consider requesting a free case evaluation, filing a personal injury claim, and working with an experienced truck accident lawyer.

How Can You Protect Against a Jackknifing Accident?

Drivers of large trucks must follow all federal rules and regulations for their vehicle, and this includes completing required certifications and tests, taking frequent breaks according to FMCSA hours of service guidelines, and refraining from alcohol or drugs. Drivers must also maintain their trucks and make regular inspections, and when driving, they need to turn cautiously.

Even if they do all of this, staying cautious near big rigs is imperative to your safety and that of your passengers. Smaller cars must understand that trucks take longer to brake and require more room for changing lanes. Since we all have to share the road, knowing how to drive defensively in your motor vehicle can help prevent or limit accidents.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provides the following prevention tips for motorists to help prevent truck crashes.

Avoid Blind Spots

Avoid staying in a truck’s blind spot. To determine when you are in one of these spots, see if the driver’s face shows up in their side mirror. If not, you are blind to them.

Lookout for Wide Turns

Trucks require extra time and space to strategically and cautiously make wide turns. Watch for big rigs making wide turns, and wait until the turn is complete before continuing. Also, if the truck is making a right turn, it may need to do so from a lane further out.

Maintain Safe Following Distance

Maintaining a safe following distance is crucial to your safety. Trucks may need to brake suddenly or slip backward when going up an inclined part of the roadway. You want to be far enough back to avoid a collision if either of these happens.

Practice Patience

Instead of losing patience or becoming overly frustrated, understand that trucks are heavy and large. They need more time to turn, accelerate, and merge. Stay back and give them space while remaining patient.

What Kinds of Injuries Are Associated with Jackknifing Accidents?

Jackknifing accidents often involve other vehicles, meaning there are usually injuries involved. The most common injuries sustained in truck crashes in Virginia include the following.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injuries can occur when you receive a head injury, such as with a sudden jolt, collision with an object, or penetration of the skull. Due to the sheer size of trucks, a jackknifing accident can result in intense trauma to the head and brain and require extensive medical treatment.

Neck and Back Injury

The impact often encountered in a crash can injure the neck and the back. You may experience whiplash, herniated discs, compression fractures, or a spinal cord injury. These injuries often present delayed symptoms, such as mild or severe lumbar pain and stiffness or numbness in the lower extremities. Back and neck injuries will need to be diagnosed and treated after the accident.


A common injury sustained by truck accident victims is a concussion. This injury can result from a blow, strike, jolt to your head, or shaking of the brain violently. A crash can violently force your head forward, causing your brain to slam into the skull. Symptoms often include severe headaches, difficulty concentrating, loss of memory, and problems with coordination and balance.

Broken Bones

Due to the force involved in accidents, broken bones can happen in different parts of the body. These breaks can be hairline or compound fractures and other types as well and require long-term treatment to heal properly.

Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries are serious, and in a crash, you may sever your spine and be left partially or fully paralyzed. You may experience ligament, disk, or nerve damage and lose feeling or mobility from such severe injuries.

Wrongful Death

Fatalities can happen to those involved in a jackknifing accident. This sudden and unexpected death may be due to the truck driver’s negligence, and if so, survivors of a family member may want to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

What Types of Benefits Can You Receive After a Jackknifing Accident?

Following a jackknifing accident, a personal injury attorney can determine which benefits you may be eligible to receive. Here are some common ones you can receive after a truck accident in Virginia.

Medical Bills

Injuries sustained during the accident can leave you with high medical bills. Damages can cover any visits to the emergency room, doctor treatments, surgery expenses, prescriptions, and more.

Lost Wages

Missing work while healing from injuries can result in a loss of income. You may be able to receive damages to cover your hourly wages or salary for the lost time and also benefits you missed out on while away from your job, such as 401k earnings and healthcare coverage.

Pain and Suffering

Damages for pain and suffering compensate you for emotional distress, anxiety, anguish, and loss of a loved one.

Loss of Companionship

Damages for loss of companionship are for the sudden loss of a parent or spouse, which can result in a loss of income in the household and more.

What is the Difference Between a Jackknife Accident and a Rollover Accident?

Tractor-trailers are often involved in both jackknife and rollover accidents. These two types of accidents may result from speeding, mechanical failures, poor road or weather conditions, or unsafe turns. However, in a rollover accident, the semi-trailer has fallen over on one side, whereas in a jackknife truck accident, the trailer is still standing upright, although it is pushed forward at a 90-degree angle.

Should You Hire an Attorney After a Jackknife Accident?

After a jackknife truck accident, hiring an attorney will be highly beneficial, as liability insurance companies and adjusters are never willing to hand over fair compensations. Your personal injury lawyer can negotiate with each insurance company on your behalf and take your case to court should you decide to sue.

All too often, some form or level of negligence is involved in a jackknife crash. Your truck accident attorney will compile and evaluate all the evidence and identify all the liable parties, which may include the driver and the trucking company, as well as others. With legal representation, you have a better chance of receiving a higher payout to meet your needs and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

Do You Know Your Legal Options After a Truck Accident?

Following a truck accident, you need to know your legal options. The experienced personal injury lawyers with Montagna Law can help. We will provide the legal advice you need to make informed decisions and work side-by-side with you to seek deserved compensation. We value our clients and will work diligently for you and your family. If you live in the Hampton Roads area, including Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, contact our law firm today by calling 757-622-8100 or using the online contact form to schedule your free consultation and case review.

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