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Jackknifing Tractor Trailer Accidents

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A lot of people are afraid to fly. There’s something about the idea of hurtling through the air that just doesn’t sit well with them. Maybe it’s the height. Maybe it’s the speed. Maybe it’s gravity. Whatever the reason, the same people who worry about the dangers of flying probably don’t think twice about hopping into a car and driving down the highway to the mall.

In 2009 alone, there were nearly 34,000 road fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Juxtaposed with the 450 aircraft related deaths over the past decade, this is a sobering statistic. According to the American Association for Justice, 4,000 of those deaths resulted from tractor trailer accidents. These accidents also cause more than 80,000 serious injuries every year.

Currently, many trucking companies violate safety standards in order to cut costs. Some practices include overloading shipments, hiring unqualified drivers at cheaper wages, ignoring general maintenance on tires, wheels, and brakes, and encouraging drivers to travel faster and spend more than the allowed number of hours driving. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance works to enforce regulations that prohibit these unsafe practices, but there are always variables that are beyond its control.

Take for example "jackknife" cashes. A jackknife effect occurs when a tractor trailer cab skids or brakes too hard. The trailer does not respond immediately to the braking and continues to move at the same rate of speed, while the cab slows rapidly.

Though jackknife crashes are most commonly caused by the sudden application of the brakes in a tractor-trailer, improperly adjusted brakes can also cause the accidents. Improperly adjusted brakes and brake failure in trucks are two of the top causes for truck crashes on highways. Loss of pedal pressure is among the most common symptoms of brake failure. In fact, any time the angle between the centerline of the tractor and its load exceeds fifteen degrees, the truck likely will jackknife and potentially skid out of control.

The Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute conducted a study related to such incidents. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of truck size and weight, vehicle handling and stability, and safety. The study addresses vehicle performance in safety-related maneuvering situations that cause not just jackknifing, but also roll overs, poor braking, and loss of directional stability. The study shows that rollover accidents are more likely for fully laden trucks and that jackknife accidents are more likely for those with empty trailers.

The study’s findings further indicate that improvements in brake proportioning and antilock systems should help reduce the number of trucking accidents. Truck stability and control during braking aim to prevent wheel locking. A tractor-trailer may jackknife if the rear wheels lock, causing the load to swing sideways. Weight has proven to be the strongest association with fatal truck accident rates. This underscores the importance of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s weight regulations and prohibition of overloaded trailers.

If you or a loved one have been involved in a truck related accident, you should contact a personal injury attorney with expertise in highway accidents so that you can be advised of your rights. Remember that with all the hazards and variables on our highways, like jackknifing trucks, it is crucial to exercise caution. For those of us who are wary of flying, this may be an incentive to overcome that fear.