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Early in the morning of February 20, a major semi-truck crash on I-5 shut down the interstate for several hours.

Initial reports from Oregon State Police (OSP) indicate that the semi truck was headed southbound on I-5 near Wilsonville, Oregon, and crossed into the northbound lanes. It looks like four vehicles were involved in the semi-truck crash on I-5. All of the northbound lanes on I-5 were closed for several hours.

Six people were taken to the hospital, at least two are reported to have serious injuries. A pickup truck caught fire, but the flames were extinguished, according Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue officials.

What caused a semi to jackknife across I-5?

The crash is recent, and we expect to learn more details in the coming days. Photos from OSP show a Heartland Express semi truck jackknifed across multiple lanes.

Semi-truck crash on I-5 February 20-OSP

Photo of jackknifed semi crash on I-5 this morning, courtesy of Oregon State Police.

Jackknife: when a semi-truck trailer skids towards the truck cab at a 90-degree angle.

The term “jackknife” comes from the look of the tractor-trailer after the crash – like a small folding knife.


Section of I-5 in Wilsonville, Oregon, where semi-truck crossed lanes and caused a major collision. Courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation.

A serious injury crash like this requires professional investigation to identify and understand all of the contributing factors and causes. But based on my 30+ years experience as a truck crash lawyer, I have some educated guesses.

What causes a semi-truck to jackknife?

Truck driver was drowsy (or fell asleep.) Many truck crashes happen when a driver has logged too many hours behind the wheel without breaking for sufficient rest. Response time suffers, and a tired trucker might not be unable to maneuver out of a dangerous situation.

Driving too fast. The average tractor-trailer weighs around 80,000 pounds, and is between 70 – 80 feet long.  It takes  much longer to stop: most semis need 40% more time to stop compared to cars. When a truck driver is forced to stop too quickly, the trailer can slide sideways and jackknife.

Truck driver was distracted. We all know the dangers of distracted driving. Professional drivers have to be even more cautious about distractions, as there is very little room for error.

Improper following distance. Large commercial vehicles must have adequate following distance to allow for a safe stopping distance. When a truck driver has to slam on the brakes, the trailer can slide sideways and jackknife.

Truck driver was incapacitatedWhen we see a drastic collision like this, we have to consider the possibility that the trucker had a medical event and was incapacitated behind the wheel. There is also the possibility that the trucker was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drivers with CMV (commercial motor vehicle) licenses are required to have blood tests after an injury crash.

Unbalanced trailer load. A truck trailer’s cargo has to be properly loaded and distributed. When cargo is unbalanced, it can shift, causing the trailer to tilt or tip.

Truck driver was inexperienced. Driving a truck is a demanding job that requires skill and experience. When truck companies try to lower costs by putting inexperienced drivers on the road, they have to pay the price. See what else causes a tractor trailer to jackknife.

These are just some of the possible contributing factors: we don’t yet know what caused this terrible semi-truck crash on I-5. But this event affected a lot of people – more than just the injured victims and their families. That is why I won’t label this as a “truck accident” : the odds are very good that it was both predictable, and preventable – not an accident.

Attorney Kevin Coluccio, for Trucking Watchdog