Jackknife accidents are not very common but when they happen, they often involve serious injuries and in some cases, death. Jackknifing happens when a towing vehicle skids and spins, with its trailer pushing it from behind. This then leads to the folding of the vehicle and trailer, resembling the acute angle of a pocket knife, hence, the name.
Common Causes of Jackknifing
Driver error – Even the most experienced drivers can make a mistake such as driving too fast or turning too quickly, leading to incidents of jackknifing. You also have an increased risk if you are towing an empty trailer or when the load is unevenly distributed in the trailer. Moreover, driver errors typically occur when driving under the influence of illicit drugs, alcohol and abused prescribed medication.
Distracted driving – Abrupt braking is one of the most common causes of jackknifing. Needless to say, you should put 100% of your attention on the road when driving. This helps you properly deal with road obstacles, avoiding instances when you have to make sudden brakings.
Extreme weather conditions – Snow, ice or strong rain makes the road slippery. On a slippery road, it can be difficult for both the vehicle and trailer to maintain traction. In this condition, sudden braking can easily cause skidding, leading the vehicle and trailer to jackknife.
High speed driving – when you are traveling over 55 mph and you need to brake suddenly, there’s a risk that the trailer will go out of control. High-speed driving is common on interstates and highways and they are where jackknife accidents are also common.
Faulty equipment – brake failure and hydraulic failure are two of the most common mechanical problems that often result to road accidents including jackknifing.
Tips to Avoid Jackknifing
- Distribute your cargo weight evenly – uneven distribution of cargo weight causes the trailer to become unstable and more prone to swaying and jackknifing.
- Use brakes with caution – brake gradually as much as possible. Instead of braking during turns, gradually slow down on the stretch before a bend. Keep in mind that sudden braking may cause the brakes to lock and may put you at risk of a jackknife situation.
- Drive slow – it may take you more time to reach your destination but driving below 55 mph can reduce your risk of jackknife incidents. At a reduced speed, you are also reducing your vehicle’s inertia should it become unstable.
- Install extended side mirrors – this is very useful for monitoring any signs of sway which could eventually lead to jackknifing.
Tips to Get Out of Jackknife Situation
It’s a challenge to get out of a jackknife situation but the following tips may help:
- Engage hazard lights to inform incoming traffic and avoid bumping into other vehicles.
- Don’t slam your brakes. Many drivers make this costly mistake which could worsen the situation.
- Accelerate to pull the vehicle and trailer out of the sway. When you see an improvement, slow down as smoothly as possible.
Even if you have a safety device in place, there is still the possibility of jackknifing. When on the road, nothing is more effective in preventing this situation than being extra careful and cautious while driving. Jackknifing is a scary and dangerous situation but with the above tips you’ll be able to prevent it from happening.