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When a truck jackknifes, the tractor and trailer form a V shape. This resembles the shape that a jackknife makes when folding the blade into its handle. The tractor-trailer rig is very much like a jackknife because it has two rigid parts, the tractor and the trailer that are connected by a hinge which is the hitch.

Jackknifing occurs when either the tractor or trailer goes into a skid. Therefore, preventing skidding also prevents jackknifing. This sounds simple enough but it’s more complex in practice. Preventing this danger requires understanding how it happens. There are also ways to recover from the start of a jackknife before your rig literally folds up. As trucking accident attorneys, we want to offer these tips on avoiding and recovering from jackknifing:

Avoiding Jackknifing

Avoid Hard Braking

As mentioned previously, when you don’t skid, you don’t jackknife. Always allow plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front. Increase this distance in wet and slippery conditions. Get into the habit of spreading out your braking over the entire distance that you have. This results in the smoothest and most gradual braking possible.

Beware Of Light Trailer Loads

The more weight you have on your wheels, the more braking traction you have. Therefore, the wheels on an empty or lightly loaded trailer are more prone to locking up and skidding. The same is true of the rear wheels of your tractor which get traction from the weight of the trailer pressing down on the hitch. When pulling an empty trailer, allow more braking distance.

Don’t Brake Unless Your Trailer Is In-Line With The Tractor

Folding up an actual jackknife is more difficult when there is no fold angle between the knife blade and handle. However, the greater the fold angle, the easier it is to fold the knife. This is also true with your rig. The tractor and trailer must form a straight line before braking. This means you should never brake while turning because the trailer and tractor are not lined up. It also means that you should not brake while swerving because a swerve is a hard turn which again means that the trailer and tractor are not lined up. In both cases, you should brake first then turn or swerve.

Jackknife Recovery

Recovery from a jackknife depends on which is doing the skidding: the trailer or the tractor. When the trailer skids, it will start to swing into the left lane or on to the shoulder and off the road. Check for this in your mirror when braking. When you see this happening, immediately release the brakes and use the tractor to pull the trailer out of its skid by applying some gas.

When the tractor skids, you have less than 2 seconds to react because recovery is impossible once the jackknife angle reaches 15 degrees. If sudden acceleration is causing the skid, then let up on the gas and steer out.

If you were injured in a trucking accident, Lewis & Keller can help you get the compensation you deserve. We represent accident victims in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Contact us today for a free consultation.


Winston-Salem Office

285 Executive Park Boulevard
Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27103

Phone: 336-765-7777
Fax: 336-659-1750

Greensboro Office

204 Muirs Chapel Road Suite 100,
Greensboro, North Carolina 27410

Phone: 336-851-1000
Fax: 336-659-1750

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