Driving tests

Brake testing: what is it?

Brake testing or brake checking is a phrase often heard in motorsport, but can be applied to the road, too. A brake test is when a driver ahead of you deliberately and unnecessarily brakes hard in order to force you to take evasive action or to cause you to run into the back of them. It is used in road rage incidents or when the driver in front is trying to commit insurance fraud.

If a driver brakes heavily for a genuine reason, such as a dog in the middle of the road, it’s not brake testing.

How do you avoid being the victim of a brake test?

Tailgating the driver in front puts you at the most risk. Not only does it annoy the driver in front (who might then try to brake test you), it also reduces your safety buffer for braking. In normal driving conditions you should be following the two-second rule. This means that if the car in front brakes heavily, you’ll have one second to react, and then you’ll start braking effectively one second before they started, and that means that you won’t hit the back of them. Two seconds isn’t enough if the car in front stops immediately (e.g. hits a boulder), but that’s highly unlikely. Therefore, maintaining the 2-second rule will give you plenty of time to brake if someone brake tests you.

Why is the driver in front brake testing you?

Brake testing is dangerous driving, but that doesn’t tell you why the driver in front might be doing it. There are a number of reasons:

  1. The driver thinks you did something wrong, e.g. you cut them off, but you didn’t actually do something wrong
  2. The driver thinks you did something wrong, e.g. you drove inconsiderately in some way, such as tailgating, aggressive overtaking, driving too slowly, etc
  3. The driver is mentally unstable and has issues that are either psychological or drug-induced, and you don’t have much control over that.
  4. The driver wants you to run into them so that they can claim on their insurance.

You can only do something directly about number two: if you drive inconsiderately, eventually you will come across a person that can’t control their temper. In the other two cases you have to increase your safety buffer and seek a safe place to diffuse the situation, e.g. by stopping and letting them go.

What should you do if you are brake tested?

You can often tell if you are going to be brake tested because a person will cut in front of you sharply, possibly having already indicated in some way that they are displeased with your driving (hand signals or other aggressive moves). Maintain at least two seconds gap, and preferably more. If you can, find a safe place to pull over where a confrontation is unlikely (a well-lit, populated area such as a service station).

The ultimate protection against liability in the case of you having an accident is a dash cam (click here to view some different dash cam models). As insurance fraud is quite common in some countries, dash cameras are very popular and they are easy to install.

Automated braking systems which are becoming common on new cars can prevent the nose-to-tail accidents caused by brake testing.

This video shows how automated braking works:

This video shows a car brake testing a truck and coming off second best:

 

driver training

Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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