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Does Ice Increase the Chances of a Jackknife Accident?

Published on Apr 13, 2022 at 3:03 pm in Truck Accidents.

truck at sunrise

When news stations show winter weather accidents, you’ll often see your fair share of crashes involving trucks. Many times you’ll see trucks that flipped over as they attempted to pass another motorist or round a circle turn when transitioning from one interstate to another. On some occasions, you’ll catch a glimpse of a rare phenomenon that is a jackknife incident.

If you haven’t seen a jackknife incident before, then we’ll break down what one looks like below. We’ll also go over how these crashes occur and whether certain factors, like ice accumulation on a roadway, are more likely to result in a jackknife than clear, dry pavement.

What Is a Jackknife Accident?

A jackknife results from a trucker losing control of their 18-wheeler, causing it to invert or its cab to become perpendicular to its trailer. A semi-truck may take on a “V” or “L” shape during this process. Some even refer to the shape a truck assumes during a jackknife accident as an open knife. Factors that can result in a trucker losing control of their tractor-trailer, causing this type of crash include:

  • Tire traction issues, which may cause skidding
  • Speeding, specifically too fast given the current road conditions
  • Tire blowouts
  • Overcompensating when making turns, passing, or steering to avoid obstructions
  • Poor trailer alignment, which may occur when a trucker quickly applies their brakes or makes a sharp turn

Most jackknife incidents are avoidable if truckers travel at an appropriate speed for road conditions, ensure their vehicles are regularly maintained, and strategically apply the brakes. However, negligence is typically the reason why a truck crash occurs, including jackknife accidents.

What Different Types of Jackknife Incidents Exist?

There are two primary types of tractor-trailer jackknife incidents that may occur. These include:

Tractor jackknife: Incidents like these often occur when the truck’s rear wheels lock, causing it to slide sideways as the back tires attempt to keep pace with the front ones. This catch-up process results in the trailer causing the truck to skid sideways.

Trailer jackknife: This incident results from trailer wheels locking, which causes the rear portion of the trailer to swing around. This type of jackknife most commonly results when a trailer is empty or lightly loaded.

Are Jackknife Accidents More Common Among Some Trucks Than Others?

This type of crash most commonly involves trucks hauling empty trailers. Safety analysts suspect that this has to do with truckers overbraking when driving these lighter 18-wheelers. Safety analysts also hypothesize that heavier tractor-trailers aid tires in better gripping the road.

Does Ice Impact Jackknife Accident Occurrences?

Instances where truckers speed and slam on their brakes increase a trucker’s risk of their trailer swinging out of control. Truckers who do either of these on slippery roadways will make a jackknife incident more likely to occur. Why is that the case?

If you’re wondering why surfaces, like ones covered with ice, increase the chances of a jackknife accident, it comes down to how it impacts a trucker’s stopping power.

Tractor-trailer operators must drive slower than they do when navigating dry roads and give themselves a significantly longer distance to reach a full stop when navigating wet, icy, or snow-covered roads compared to dry ones. Also, truckers must account for bridges freezing before other roadways anytime temperatures drop to near freezing.

Truckers must also realize that the type of ice they encounter dictates how their tractor-trailers respond. Take, for example:

Black ice: As someone residing in Illinois, you’ve likely encountered your fair share of black ice. It’s that very thin layer of ice that is so transparent that you can clearly see the underlying roadway. Many motorists confuse black ice-covered roads for wet ones. All drivers must be vigilant for black ice when temperatures drop below freezing.

Melting ice: Many motorists would assume melting ice is safer than hardened sheets of it. That’s simply not the case. Melting ice increases wetness which makes it far more slippery than solid sheets.

How Can Truckers Avoid a Jackknife Crash?

Commercial driver’s license education companies teach truckers to not only adjust their speed to the road conditions but also to do the following to avoid a jackknife crash:

Gradually apply their brakes across as long of a distance as possible: This approach gives a trucker extra time to bring their semi-truck to a full stop and minimizes the chances of the brakes locking up.

Progressively decelerate: This technique is critical when a trucker is navigating a curve. A tractor-trailer operator’s goal should be not to have to brake.

The best approach truckers can employ when a jackknife crash appears to be imminent is to:

Avoid using the retarder or engine brake: Using these on slick roadways could cause the truck’s drive axle to lock up, resulting in jackknifing.

Focus on steering: Truckers must do this instead of accelerating or braking in the midst as a jackknife incident is in progress.

Be careful when gearing down: Tractor-trailer operators who gear down when they encounter ice will only end up with their wheels sliding or skidding. Some traffic safety analysts refer to this process as a trailer slide. It often precedes a jackknife crash. Truckers should instead focus on quickly releasing their clutch so that their wheels can continue rolling, thus self-correcting and avoiding a sliding trailer incident.

The more skilled the trucker, the more likely they will have the necessary skillset to regain control of their truck, averting a crash.

Dangers Motorists Face When a Truck Jackknifes

Jackknife accidents often happen so quickly that motorists driving alongside 18-wheelers have few options to avoid becoming entangled in a crash. It’s not uncommon for passenger cars to end up trapped under or between a truck’s tractor and trailer in the process.

Where To Turn When a Jackknife Crash Injures You

Trucks and passenger cars don’t mesh well. Tractor-trailers are larger and weigh more than smaller motor vehicles, leading to a deadly combination when the two collide. Our  truck accident attorneys in Ottawa, IL regularly work with clients who have suffered life-altering injuries in collisions. Let us advocate for you if an Illinois jackknife crash has left impacted your life.

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