Tips to help avoid jackknifes

Truck sits in the middle of a snow covered ditch

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. To see what additional resources Great West Casualty Company can provide for its insureds, please contact your safety representative, or click below to find an agent.

Find an Agent

© Great West Casualty Company 2022. The material in this publication is the property of Great West Casualty Company unless otherwise noted and may not be reproduced without its written consent by any person other than a current insured of Great West Casualty Company for business purposes. Insured should attribute use as follows: “© Great West Casualty Company 2022. Used with permission by Great West Casualty Company.”

This material is intended to be a broad overview of the subject matter and is provided for informational purposes only. Great West Casualty Company does not provide legal advice to its insureds, nor does it advise insureds 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. Legal advice should always be sought from the insured’s legal counsel. Great West Casualty Company 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.