Every so often on the news, you will hear about a truck accident where a tractor-trailer jackknifed on the highway, sometimes yielding fatal results. Even if you’re the most experienced truck driver around, you can end up jackknifing in the wrong conditions, leaving you and your vehicle in serious peril. Knowing how jackknifing occurs and how to avoid it can save your life and so many others along the way.
What is Jackknifing and How Does It Happen?
Jackknifing takes place when a vehicle and its attached trailer get out of sync during towing, forming an L or a V shape. The phrase originates from the shape the truck and accompanying trailer create, which looks like a jackknife as its blades fold into the handle. The vehicle’s tires lose traction during such an instance, with the wheels skidding as opposed to rolling, leading the trailer to swing sideways in a violent manner. The tires can lose traction due to poor road conditions caused by weather or due to improper braking. Once a jackknifing begins, it not only causes you to lose control, but it can also put several motorists within range at risk.
Often, jackknifing is preventable once certain measures are employed to improve safety and control.
How Do You Prevent Jackknifing?
Preventing jackknifing mainly comes down being a smarter and safer driver. You need to know how sturdy things are, from the trailer itself to the tires, and constantly check to make sure everything is moving in tow.
Check Your Mirrors
The first thing you need to do is check your mirrors to ensure your trailer isn’t swinging wildly or making any sideways motions. Check your mirrors while braking to know how careful you have to be driving with the trailer in the back. Make sure you brake slowly and gradually, doing so before a bend in the road. If you notice your tractor is jackknifing, let the brake go so that the wheels resume rolling and regain traction on the road. If it’s a trailer jackknife, you can increase your speed so that the trailer falls back into place.
Light Loads Cause Heavy Burdens
In many cases, jackknifing happens because the trailer is empty or has a light load. The heavier a trailer is, the less likely it is to jackknife. A heavier load allows the trailer to bear down on the road, improving grip. A light or non-existent load works against a tractor, causing friction issues.
Over-braking is also likelier with lighter loads because a tractor-trailer’s brakes are tailor-made for fully loaded trucks. If you have a light load or no load at all, checking your mirrors to assess your braking and the movement of the trailer is critical.
Braking properly is a major element to ensuring your tractor-trailer doesn’t jackknife. So many jackknifing accidents are caused because the tractor-trailer driver was either braking too quickly or with too much force while trying to get things under control. Especially when roads are slick or frozen during wintertime, you’ll need to brake with care when operating a tractor-trailer.
First, when you’re approaching a turn, avoid braking. Decelerate at a slow pace on the long stretch preceding the bend or curve. That helps your tires maintain traction and allows you to speed up a bit once you’re done negotiating the curve.
Downhill turns are often prime candidates for jackknifing. Whenever you proceed down a steep hill and want to turn to either side, don’t assume the trailer will follow you. You need to slow it down or come to a complete stop before heading left or right. Because it’s a hill, the trailer’s going to continue straight down the hill due to its gravity level. Once you’ve checked your trailer’s momentum and are satisfied with it, you can then pull it around the corner.
Also, avoid slamming on the brakes as this could cause them to lock, which means you’ll lose control and accelerate the jackknifing. Keep a safe distance from other vehicles on the road, so you can avoid situations where your instincts tell you to brake hard because there’s a vehicle in front.
If you are in an emergency situation, avoid braking and swerving at the same time as this can complicate things further. You may have to brake first, let the brake go, then swerve, and brake again. You’ll need a strong hand and poise to maneuver this situation.
In addition to driving techniques, there’s more technology than ever to help prevent jackknifing.
As improper braking leads to so many jackknifing incidents, anti-lock brakes are available for your tractor, trailer, or both. These brakes prevent your wheels from locking up, equipping your vehicle with sensors that look out for unusually heavy braking. Whenever you’re over-braking by slamming on your brakes too much, the sensors kick in, decreasing the brake pressure on the wheel. They help you to steer with more firmness and avoid skidding. They aren’t much different than normal brakes in cars, but they are essential for maintaining steadiness in big-rigs.
Other types of anti-jackknifing technology include load-sensing regulators, which reduce brake pressure on the wheel while the load is light. You will also find coupling devices such as a fifth wheel, which prevents the tractor and trailer from folding too far into each other. It’s advised that you use a swing-limiting device in conjunction with the fifth wheel so that you can engage and disengage at will.
With such technology and safer driving tips, you can keep your tractor-trailer from jackknifing and putting lives at risk. Always check your tires to make sure they are in good working order and make sure they are appropriate for the season. Inspect your brakes, your steering wheel, and make sure your tractor-trailer is as well-balanced as possible before heading onto the road.