If you’ve been in a rear-end accident recently, you might have heard the term “brake checking” used in describing what happened. If you’re not familiar with it, we explain brake checking here. We discuss whether or not it’s legal in Massachusetts, why people brake check, and what to do if you’ve been in an accident involving brake checking.
Is Brake Checking Someone Illegal in MA?
Before we get into discussions about the legality of brake checking in Massachusetts, it’s helpful to define brake checking first. Brake checking is the act of hitting your brakes suddenly when someone is driving too close to your bumper, also known as tailgating (more about that below).
Brake checking can involve slamming on your brakes at high speed, or it can be constantly tapping your brakes so the person behind you has to continually slow down or stop. Brake checking, per se, isn’t specifically illegal in Massachusetts; however, it is considered reckless driving, which is illegal, according to General Laws, Chapter 90, Section 24.
Reckless driving is any kind of driving that involves wanton or willful disregard for the safety of other motorists sharing the road with you.
Reckless driving can result in traffic citations (AKA tickets), fines, and even jail time, depending on the situation. Other forms of reckless driving include speeding, driving too fast for conditions, ignoring traffic signals, driving under the influence, and drag racing. If reckless driving causes an accident, even stiffer penalties may apply, based on the unique aspects of the case, as discussed below.
Therefore, brake checking is actually illegal in Massachusetts and should be avoided at all costs. As well as fines and jail time, engaging in reckless driving can be a surchargeable offense (similar to adding points to your driving record) that can result in a suspended license. This means you will be unable to drive for a certain period of time, making it hard to get to work, school, and other activities.
Why is brake checking considered reckless driving? Because it can force the person behind you to crash into your vehicle or veer into traffic to avoid hitting you. Other motorists or pedestrians could be injured or killed, and there could be widespread damage done to multiple vehicles or personal property.
Brake checking can cause a host of dangerous consequences. There could be children or pets in the vehicle that could be hurt in a crash. It can precipitate single-vehicle accidents, where one car swerves at the last minute and hits a utility pole or fence. A swerving car can also cause other vehicles to swerve in response, setting up a cascade of accidents involving many people.
Checking motorists with brakes has also been known to spark incidents of road rage. This also puts everyone in the vicinity in harm’s way. An enraged party could follow a brake checker home or to their workplace or confront them on the street, engaging in threats, assault, or violence involving firearms.
Why Do People Brake Check?
So, what’s the motivation behind brake checking anyway? There are basically two reasons why drivers brake check other motorists. One is usually out of anger or frustration, and the second involves insurance fraud.
In the first scenario, the car in front (let’s call it Car A) gets frustrated with the vehicle behind it (Car B). Car B has been tailgating Car A for miles, flashing its lights and honking its horn, presumably urging Car A to go faster. The driver of Car A finally explodes and starts applying the brakes, hoping Car B will get the message and either back off or pass.
In the second instance, Car A slams on its brakes to intentionally get Car B to crash into it. The driver of Car A then files a fraudulent insurance claim against the driver of Car B, asking for property damage reimbursement and money for medical treatment. Insurance fraud is a serious offense that carries stiff legal penalties, including incarceration.
To be clear, there are times when any driver might need to apply their brakes suddenly, regardless of who is behind them. This can happen if a pet or child runs into the road, for instance. This is not considered brake checking.
The reasons why people brake check provide clues as to how to avoid this phenomenon. If someone is driving too close to the rear end of your vehicle, the answer isn’t to keep pumping the brakes. Instead, use your directional signal, pull over at a safe place, and let the other party pass you.
There is no reason to get in an accident or risk the safety of others by brake checking someone. Enforcing traffic laws is the responsibility of law enforcement, not you. You and everyone else on the road with you will stay safer if you play it cool.
There are a few other solutions to prevent brake checking problems in general:
- Avoid driving slowly unnecessarily. You can in some conditions be ticketed by law enforcement for going too far under the speed limit. If people are routinely driving right on your bumper, perhaps you are going too slowly or gawking at your surroundings instead of concentrating on driving.
- If you’re riding with a new driver, like your teen with a learner’s permit, stay off busy roads until they’re more confident and have a better sense of speed and distance perception. Encourage young drivers to keep a safe distance from cars in front of them, as described below.
- If you must drive slowly because of a mechanical problem, bad road conditions, poor visibility, or a load in the rear of your vehicle, use your hazard lights (AKA flashers) to alert people behind you to stay back.
- Try to stay out of areas where you know bumper-to-bumper traffic occurs on a daily basis, such as at commuter rush hour.
- Make it your policy to always maintain a safe distance from cars in front of you. Always leave room for braking. You should have at least a car’s length of space between you and other vehicles and even more at higher speeds or if the weather is bad.
- If you feel someone in front of you is going too slowly, first give them the benefit of the doubt. There may be someone in front of them slowing things down that you cannot see. A polite beep or one flash of lights is usually fine, but repetitive honking and turning lights on and off only escalates the situation.
If I Caused an Accident from Brake Checking Someone, Am I Liable?
If you’ve been hit from behind or caused another accident by brake checking someone, you may be wondering if you can be found at fault. The answer is yes, you can be liable, depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident. Not all rear-end crashes, for example, are the fault of the driver in the rear.
Now, wait a minute, you may be thinking, isn’t Massachusetts a no-fault accident state? Yes, but in accidents involving death or these serious injuries, sometimes one party is found liable:
- Broken bones
- Permanent scarring
Normally, after an accident, each party’s own insurance covers their vehicle damage and any medical expenses. But accidents involving wrongful death or serious injury are another story.
This is why it’s essential to speak with an experienced car accident lawyer after a crash where brake checking may have occurred, whether you were the driver in Car A or Car B as described in the scenario above.
This is a good time to review what to do if you’re in an accident, regardless of whether brake checking was the cause or not. Follow these steps to stay safe, protect your rights, and keep calm at the scene of a motor vehicle crash.
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