If there’s one thing that truck drivers dread, it’s a jackknife accident. Jackknifing has huge potential for carnage, often resulting in multiple vehicle accidents and truck flip-overs. About 10 percent of all big truck-related deaths result from jackknife accidents.
Jackknife accidents occur when a truck towing a trailer skids and the trailer’s momentum causes the trailer to swing to the side while pushing the truck. When a tractor trailer is jackknifing, the trailer often collides with the truck. During a jackknife accident, the driver has no control, and the truck and trailer can take up multiple traffic lanes, careening into other vehicles. Trucks that jackknife also often overturn, which can result in fires and cargo spills.
Truckers can reduce their risk of jackknifing by using these best practices for driving a tractor trailer:
- Brake gradually – Slamming on brakes makes jackknifing more likely. Practice progressive braking – slowing over the longest distance possible. It helps reduce the likelihood of jackknifing and is a good general safety practice, as it provides drivers with more reaction time.
- Be careful when towing light loads – Vehicles carrying heavy loads are unlikely to jackknife; it’s the lightly packed trailers that you have to worry about. Jackknifing typically happens when trailers are empty or light loads are badly distributed. Light trailer loads and poorly distributed loads are more likely to cause skidding because trailers and their brakes are designed for full loads and provide too much power when loads are light, resulting in skidding.
- Avoid braking on a curve – Slow down on straight-line stretches of highway before you enter a curve. Braking on a curve can cause wheels to lose traction, resulting in a skid. By slowing before the curve, you avoid this situation. Avoiding braking on a curve is particularly important when the curve ahead is a downhill curve, as the momentum on the trailer will be increased, making a jackknife more likely.
- If your vehicle starts to skid, remove your foot from the brake – This may be counterintuitive, but, by releasing the brake, you prevent the skid from becoming worse, and you stand a better chance of avoiding a jackknife.
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