The incident took place on the A1M near Doncaster, when a silver Vauxhall Astra collided with a heavy goods vehicle just after 6.10am yesterday, police said.
The car then collided with the central barrier and came to rest across the inside lane, while the HGV pulled on to the hard shoulder.
A different truck stopped on the hard shoulder to try and help, but then a third lorry crashed into the back of that.
The driver of the third HGV, a 47-year-old man from Leeds, was killed and two passengers from the same vehicle sustained multiple, life-threatening injuries.
One of the men, a 58-year-old from Redditch, is being treated at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield. The other, a 35-year-old man from Bedford, is being treated at Doncaster Royal Infirmary.
A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “The driver of the Vauxhall Astra, a 26-year-old man from Doncaster, has been arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving.”
The northbound carriageway of the A1M was closed at J36-37 for over eight hours as a result of the incidents.