Tips To Help Avoid Jackknifes

There is an increased risk of jackknifes in winter due to icy roadways, but this type of loss-of-control crash can occur any time of the year. To help avoid a jackknife, or recover from one, drivers must be able to recognize the hazards that can lead to a jackknife and react properly. Read the information below and ask yourself if there are actions you can take to improve your driving skills and reduce the risk of a jackknife.



Slippery road conditions, like black ice, snow, sand, salt, etc., can cause tires to lose traction. Similarly, adverse weather including rain, sleet, snow, etc. can lead to poor visibility and reduce a driver’s ability to identify hazards and react in time.


Jackknifes can be caused by the tractor or trailer losing rolling traction, meaning the tire’s adhesion or grip to the road surface as the vehicle is moving. If the tractor’s steer tires lock up or the drive wheels slide or spin, it can cause the tractor’s drive wheels to try to lead the steer tires and swing around.

Similarly, the trailer may jackknife for a number of reasons, including insufficient tire tread depth, shifting cargo, a lightly laden or empty trailer, brake failure or improper brake adjustment, a disconnected air hose, or the trailer tandems losing traction and beginning to slide or spin.


Truck drivers can inadvertently trigger a jackknife when driving too fast for conditions, braking abruptly, accelerating too fast, or using the engine brake or cruise control on slippery surfaces. In addition, inexperience, distractions, and inattention can cause a driver to overlook the hazards that can lead to a jackknife. This can cause them to react suddenly and turn the steering wheel too sharply.


One defense against a jackknife is prevention. Conduct a thorough pre-trip inspection to ensure your equipment is working properly. Be cautious of slippery driving conditions and when pulling an empty or lightly laden trailer. Pay attention to the road ahead while driving and avoid distractions such as talking/texting on the phone or driving while ill or fatigued. Reduce speed in bad weather and leave yourself extra room to execute a controlled stop.

1. To regain rolling traction, disengage the clutch if using a manual transmission or shift to neutral when using an automatic transmission.
2. Avoid using the brakes.
3. Steer in the direction of the skid, then counter-steer, as needed, to straighten the truck.

The information in this article is provided as a courtesy of Great West Casualty Company and is part of the Value-Driven® Company program. Value-Driven Company was created to help educate and inform insureds so they can make better decisions, build a culture that values safety, and manage risk more effectively.

Note: These lists are not intended to be all-inclusive

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This material is intended to be a broad overview of the subject matter and is provided for informational purposes only. Joe Morten & Son, Inc. does not provide legal advice to its insureds or other  parties, nor does it advise insureds or other parties on employment-related issues, therefore the subject matter is not intended to serve as legal or employment advice for any issue(s) that may arise in the operations of its insureds or other parties. Legal advice should always be sought from legal counsel. Joe Morten & Son, Inc. shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss, action, or inaction alleged to be caused directly or indirectly as a result of the information contained herein. Reprinted with permission from Great West Casualty Company.