Brake checking is dangerous, reckless and a punishable offence.

In the best case, it’s road rage gone too far. Worst case? Someone’s targeted you for an insurance scam. Whatever the reason, brake-checking other drivers is a one-stop shop for causing a crash on the road.

Alright, social media algorithms determine a lot of what we see on our screens – but lately, it feels like a constant barrage of dashcam footage showing inexplicably stupid crashes happening on the road.

With such an influx of footage online, it’s easy to think that driving standards are slipping. 

But are they?

A post-lockdown survey by insurance specialists Compare the Market suggested that many drivers feel driving standards have slipped since the 2020 COVID lockdowns, when the vast majority of us went for an extended period of time without heading onto the roads.

Whether or not this is a true reflection of driving standards is hard to say without further research. It might just be the case that after working from home for so long, many of us have become unaccustomed to dealing with heavy traffic.

It’s a sad fact that there have always been (and probably always will be) dangerous drivers on the road. And recently, they seem to be hopping on the brake checking bandwagon.

What is brake checking? 

If you’ve never experienced this phenomenon first-hand, you should count yourself lucky.

Brake checking is when a driver slams on their brakes unexpectedly and without cause, when there is another driver close behind them.

In many cases, this causes a vehicle collision as the rear driver hits the car that braked – and the consequences can be severe for all involved. Not only does it fall under the 1988 Road Traffic Act as dangerous driving, but any resulting crash could cause severe, long-lasting injuries or even prove fatal.

Like any reasonable person, you may be wondering, ‘why would anyone slam their brakes on without a reason?’ 

It can happen at any time and often without any warning. So, keeping on top of stopping distances and driving speeds remain crucial to preventing the intentions of brake checking as far as possilbe. As always on our roads, and however hard it may be, if it does happen to you its important to keep a cool head.

Why does brake checking happen? 

We’ve all been tailgated at some point. Some of us may even tailgate others on occasion (And while we can only strongly urge against this behaviour, we know none of us are perfect).

So how do you deal with it? A lot of the time there’s nothing you can do; you simply have to maintain your speed and the tailgater will pass you when it’s (hopefully) safe. Sometimes you may even feel pressured to pull over so they can get past and speed off into the distance.

What you should never, ever do is hit the brakes to warn them off – no matter how much you might want to tell them to back off.

While it might seem like a good way to send a warning that they’re too close to your vehicle, braking suddenly at that distance is a good way to get a tailgater to go into the back of your car at speed. Basically, you’re inviting the exact situation you’re trying to avoid by sending a warning in the first place.

And if you get caught you could be slapped with an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison. Of course, if you cause a fatality this way you could be going to prison for a whole lot longer. Not a great way to de-escalate the situation, is it?

But at least in this scenario it’s a case of best intentions gone wrong. Brake checking is also a road rage tactic – and we can all agree there are no best of intentions to be had there.

Say someone cuts you off at a roundabout or a junction, or maybe they’re doing 40mph in a national speed limit zone. Either way, the driver in front has done something to infuriate you beyond reason, but how do you handle it?

Do you calm down and let the road rage go? Or do you escalate the situation, by getting in front of them and slamming on the brakes to get back at them? Would you do this on a dual carriage way? Or on a busy motorway?

Shockingly, there’s a depressing amount of dashcam footage online showing that some drivers will do exactly that.

Believe it or not, there’s an even worse reason to be brake checked than this.

View through wet windshield of car braking

Crash for cash

Where’s there’s blame, there’s a claim – or so the saying goes. A somewhat despicable outlook, but there is a little nugget of truth in it (unfortunately). 

It boggles the mind to think about it, but some motorists use brake checking to defraud their car insurer. They target random motorists, cause a collision by brake checking and fraudulently claim on their insurance.

And if you drive into the back of someone’s car and don’t have dashcam footage to prove it was a set-up, the scam will be successful. Why? Because when you rear end another driver, insurance companies will almost always decide you’re at fault, for being too close to the other car. In other words, for tailgating.

Unfortunately, scammers can take things a step further to ensure their fraud is successful, even going as far as disabling the brake lights on their vehicle. 

The cost-of-living crisis is not helping matters either. City of London police stated that approximately 51% of the cases their fraud unit received were for motor insurance fraud, between March 2022 and April 2023.

For instance, September 2022 saw the final arrest and sentencing of four men who deliberately caused a collision on a busy A road. In this case we have three vehicles on a slip road, an illegal brake check and an innocent driver hitting the back of someone’s car at 50mph. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, the scam wasn’t successful.

CCTV footage and inconsistent accounts of the incident raised suspicions, but had their claim been successful these four criminals would have fraudulently cost their insurer almost £50,000 from that one incident alone.

While the fraudulent claim was scuppered, unfortunately the targeted driver still sustained injuries as a direct result of the collision. Even when fraud is caught, the act of brake checking itself can still cause serious physical harm.

How to avoid being brake checked

You can’t prevent other people from targeting you – whether as part of a scam, or as an object for their road rage. But you can take action to prevent their brake checking attempt from being successful.

In the first instance, stay alert and aware of your surroundings: the earlier you notice an aggressive driver, the better.

Make sure you also obey the speed limit when you’re behind the wheel. You should do this anyway, but maintaining the correct speed will help keep a safe distance between your car and the car in front. The further away you are, the more time you will have to stop if they brake unexpectedly.

That means not tailgating your fellow drivers too. Leasing a car with adaptive cruise control may assist you with this.

If you genuinely feel uneasy and it’s safe to do so, you may even consider pulling over to get away from the situation before it escalates.

And finally – this one is less about prevention admittedly – consider getting a dashcam. It may deter scammers from targeting you, but in the worst case it will at least prove the other driver’s guilt if you do become a victim of brake checking. 

Adaptive cruise control sounding good?

Chloe Allen

Chloe Allen

Our Digital Marketing Executive Chloe is in charge of our e-newsletter. There's no one better placed to inform and delight you every month, so keep your eyes peeled for her newsletter hitting an email inbox near you soon.