Types of Collisions

Tractor trailer accidents are involved in approximately 500,000 collisions per year in the United States. While about 10 percent of these accidents result in fatalities, certain types of collisions are more devastating than others. Jackknifes and rollovers are two of the most common types of collisions and they can be the most dangerous, as these have the propensity to harm the most amount of other vehicles and property.

Types of Trucking Accidents

All types of collisions can result in fatalities, severe injuries, and property damage especially when a tractor trailer is involved. Tractor trailers are much larger than passenger vehicles, and can hold up to 80,000 pounds, or even more with certain permits. About 80 percent of all fatalities resulting from tractor trailer collisions are drivers or passengers of smaller vehicles.

Head-On Collisions

Head-on collisions occur when a driver crosses over into the lane of oncoming vehicles. This type of collision with a tractor trailer truck is often fatal for any smaller vehicles involved. Head-on collisions may be caused by driver inattention, decreased visibility, obstructions in the road causing the drivers to swerve, or equipment failure.


Jackknives occur when a truck in motion ends up with the cab facing at a different angle than the trailer. It is called “jackknifing” because the angle of the trailer in relation to the cab resembles the angle of the blade of a folding pocket knife. A truck can jackknife because of icy or wet conditions, equipment failure, or improper maneuvering or braking.


Rollovers are usually caused by a failure to adjust speed and braking based on road conditions and size and placement of load being carried. In many cases, factors such as sleepiness or impairment on the part of the truck driver are contributing factors to the rollover. Rollovers can cause further damage to road and vehicles if cargo is released during the impact.

Under-Ride Accidents

Under-ride accidents occur when smaller vehicles go underneath a trailer. This can be extremely dangerous for the vehicle involved. Under-ride accidents can also cause the tractor trailer to jackknife or rollover, resulting in even more damage, injury, and possible fatalities.

Preventing Truck Collisions

Truckers should be trained on techniques to prevent devastating collisions, particularly rollovers and jackknifes. Since rollovers are difficult to prevent once the truck has started to tilt, signs are also in place to warn truck drivers about steep hills and other permanent road conditions. However, these signs are frequently ignored. If a trucker is distracted, tired, intoxicated, or engaged in any other risky behavior, none of these safety precautions will help. Safe truck drivers must always be alert, attentive, and well-trained.


“An Analysis of Fatal Large Truck Crashes.” U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. National Center for Statistics and Analysis, n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/809-569.pdf>.

McGee, Hugh, and Rodney Strickland. “An Automatic Warning System to Prevent Truck Rollover on Curved Ramps.” U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/94spring/p94sp17.cfm>.

McKnight, James, and George Bahouth. “Analysis of Large Truck Rollover Crashes.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. USA.gov, n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256782/>.