Brake checking: Road rage taken to a new level
A typical scenario is when a motorist pulls in a front of a truck without giving the trucker time to put two seconds between them. Feeling like they’re being tailgated, the car driver brake checks – stops their car in the middle of the highway – causing the trucker to slam on their brakes. The driver may hit the stopped car causing damage, or they may miss the car altogether but cause a multiple pile up behind the truck.
Although less common, trucks sometimes brake check each other with disastrous results as seen in the video below.
According to the poster, the following incident occurred on May 9, 2018, on I-294 in Chicago. The brake check caused a complete stop on the interstate. Although the brake-checked truck was able to stop, the stoppage caused a 15-car pile-up with injuries. Caution: Strong language at the end.
Is brake checking becoming more common?
“Anecdotally, we might be seeing see more of it… It seems like there is more. That’s for sure,” said Doug Dahl, manager of Target Zero, a Washington state program to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roadways to zero by the year 2030.
He notes that the Washington Department of Licensing includes brake checking as one of the behaviors symptomatic of aggressive driving and road rage. The list also includes tailgating, the action that typically precedes a brake check. He adds, however, that there’s no hard data on brake checking incidents. “There’s not really a category of crashes caused by brake checking that an officer would check off on a collision report.”
The psychology of brake checking is more complex than a one-on-one incident of road rage in which one driver confronts another – makes eye contact at least – and could lead to screaming, finger gesturing or even a fight. “It seems to me that [brake checking] is really sort of ego-driven rather than rational, Dahl said.
“People say: ‘You’re in my space, I’m going to demand it back, and so I’m going to brake check you. If you hit me it’s your fault.’ We have this false perception that the following car is always at fault. That’s usually the case, but if someone slams on their brakes unexpectedly on a freeway, that’s not a behavior you would normally anticipate. They’d certainly be responsible, too. I think we’ve got such an entitled attitude towards driving that I’m going to have my space and if somebody follows too close or does something else I don’t like, I can use some action to show how much I dislike what they’re doing.”