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.
Do not leave the scene. Fleeing the scene of an accident is a crime. Always stay to speak to first responders and exchange details with other people involved, as outlined below.
See if anyone needs medical assistance. You or other parties may be injured. Scratches, bruising, swelling, and bleeding can be indicative of more serious injuries, as can loss of consciousness, confusion, difficulty breathing, signs of shock, and other serious symptoms.
Call for help. Dial 911 and report the crash, giving your name, phone number, location, and brief pertinent details. Let the 911 operator know if you need an ambulance for anyone who is injured.
Move out of busy traffic, if possible. Sometimes, you may not be able to move, or your vehicle isn’t drivable. But if you can, pull out of traffic to prevent further accidents, and park in a lot or side street.
Exchange information with other parties. You should all get each other’s names, contact information, and insurance data. Write down the make, model, and license plate number of any other vehicles in the crash.
Answer questions for law enforcement but do not admit liability. You may be asked what happened, so try to respond without saying too much. Never say you were at fault even if you believe you were, as there may be other factors you don’t know about.
Produce insurance documents, as requested. You may be asked for proof of auto insurance by law enforcement. In Massachusetts, you must carry liability coverage, uninsured motorist coverage, and personal injury protection.
Document the scene of the accident. Take photos or video with a mobile device to show vehicles after the crash, weather, road conditions, and the like. It is your right to do this, even if police officers do so too.
Seek medical treatment if needed. You may need to go to the emergency room or see your healthcare provider the next day. Be aware that you can have delayed pain or other symptoms days or even weeks after a car accident.
Follow up with your insurance company. You may need to file a claim. Do not admit liability with your insurance agent either.
Report the accident to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. This is required within five days if someone was injured or killed or if damage to a vehicle or property is $1,000 or more.
Call a car accident attorney if you need assistance. You may need help getting insurance compensation, defending yourself from charges, or seeking damages if another party was at fault.
Speak with an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Today!
As you can imagine after reading this post, brake checking accidents are rarely straightforward. One party can argue that they were brake checked by the vehicle in front of them. The other party can say they were simply using their brakes and the car behind them was following too closely.
It can be challenging to determine if someone was actually brake checking or if someone was tailgating. A seasoned car accident attorney, however, can often get to the bottom of the story by:
- Speaking to first responders who were sent to the accident scene
- Reading police and insurance reports
- Looking at traffic camera footage
- Speaking with eyewitnesses to the accident
- Reading post-accident medical reports
- Talking to expert accident consultants
At Breakstone, White & Gluck, we can help clients get the insurance compensation they deserve or file a suit in a court of law. We also represent drivers accused of brake checking that caused an accident to make sure their rights are protected. If serious reckless driving charges are involved, we can help you obtain the best possible, least disruptive outcome possible.
If you feel you have been the victim of insurance fraud, you should also speak with an attorney. You and/or your insurance carrier may have paid money to another party that didn’t deserve it. We can help right this wrong.
No matter which side of the brake checking accident you were on, we welcome the opportunity to assist you with your case. Breakstone, White & Gluck offers a free initial consultation to let you know our thoughts on your situation. Call us today at 888-379-1244, or get in touch online to let us know how we can help.