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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Can you legally brake check a driver for aggressive tailgating? Here’s what WA law says

Traffic flows along Interstate 90 through Post Falls on Nov. 2, 2022. Title 49, Chapter 8 of the Idaho Statutes says that a driver cannot “stop or suddenly decrease the speed of a vehicle without first giving an appropriate signal to the driver of any vehicle immediately to the rear.”  (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Rosemary Montalvo (Tacoma) News Tribune

Road rage manifests itself in many ways, from drivers honking their horns and yelling to cutting off other people.

However, one of the most stressful forms of road rage may be tailgating – when another driver follows closely behind your car, leaving little room for reaction in case of a sudden stop.

What should you do if a vehicle is at an unsafe distance behind you while driving? Is it legal to brake check another driver to make them back off?

Here’s the law in Washington state.

What is brake checking?

According to The Jones Firm, a personal injury law firm in Bellevue, brake checking “is when a driver suddenly and intentionally slams on their brakes in front of another vehicle without a valid reason. “

The Jones Firm states on their website that brake checking forces the driver following behind to brake hard or risk rear-ending the car in front of them.

Brake checking can be difficult to prove, but if there is enough evidence, it could lead to tickets, fines and even license suspension, according to the law firm.

Is brake checking legal in Washington?

Washington state Law says that it is prohibited to stop, stand or park in specified places “except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic, or in compliance with law or the directions of a police officer or official traffic control device.”

The Washington state Department of Licensing classifies brake checking under road rage and aggressive driving.

Washington State Patrol Trooper John Dattilo said in an interview that brake checking is against the law.

“You are not supposed to slow or stop without cause,” Dattilo said. “Essentially, anytime you’re intentionally doing that, it’s it’s against the law. If you’re stopping because there’s something in the roadway because there’s something in front of you and you are trying to avoid a crash, you’re fine.”

Dattilo added that drivers could be cited for attempting to stop in the roadway without cause as well as for negligent driving which has a fine of $559.

“If a trooper were to witness you brake checking someone, they can stop you and could write you for negligent driving,” Dattilo said. “Any reasonable person could say that you’re endangering a person or property because most of the time people are doing it not necessarily with the intention of causing a crash, but it does often happen.”

What should you do if someone is tailgating you?

In order to avoid brake checking accidents, The Jones Firm recommends driving defensively by:

  • Staying calm and alert at all time
  • Keeping a safe distance between you and the car in front of you
  • Refraining from speeding, cutting off or making sudden lane changes without signaling

The DOL also recommends that drivers be mindful, avoid escalation and report aggressive driving to the police.