Is Brake Checking Illegal in Washington State?

You’re driving along the highway when the car in front of you suddenly slams on their brakes. Your heart jumps as you narrowly avoid rear-ending them. Shaken, you wonder if that driver just “brake checked” you intentionally. This dangerous maneuver seems like it should be illegal. But is brake checking actually against the law in Washington?

As you continue your drive, let’s explore this issue together. By the end, you’ll understand the legal gray area around brake checking in Washington, the potential consequences you could face, why it’s so hazardous, and how to properly handle aggressive drivers. Buckle up and let’s hit the open road of knowledge!

Here’s a quick answer:

While no law specifically prohibits brake checking in Washington State, the act could still lead to criminal charges like reckless driving or vehicular assault depending on the circumstances. Brake checking also endangers all involved drivers by heightening crash risks. So drivers should maintain safer following distances and avoid confrontational behaviors.

First, what exactly is brake checking? It’s when a driver intentionally and abruptly hits the brakes to cause the car behind them to also brake hard or collide with them. Sounds illegal right? Not so fast.

Washington state actually has no law explicitly banning brake checking. But before you assume it’s a legal free-for-all, other regulations still apply. Depending on the situation, brake checkers could face charges like reckless driving, following too closely, harassment, and assault.

Following Too Closely

This law requires you to always stay back a safe distance from the car ahead, allowing ample room to brake. By intentionally inducing you to stop fast, brake checkers violate this rule. An officer citing this may ask how many seconds elapsed between the other car braking and you braking. Just be honest.

Reckless Driving

If an officer determines the brake checker’s actions deliberately endangered you and others, they may issue a reckless driving citation. This serious charge often comes as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Yikes!


Frustrated by a tailgater you can’t shake? Still, resist the urge to brake check them. Instead, safely pull over and let them pass. If you brake check and they can prove you knowingly alarmed, annoyed, or harassed them, you could face this criminal charge.


Believe it or not, intentionally brake checking someone could constitute vehicular assault in Washington! If found guilty, you’d face some combination of fines, jail time, license suspension or permanent loss of license privileges. Don’t put yourself in that position!

Risking Financial Loss

Aside from potential criminal penalties, you also open yourself up to costly civil liability by brake checking another driver. For example, say you brake check someone and cause them to collide with your vehicle. Even if police decline to charge you criminally, the other motorist could still sue you for monetary damages in civil court.

The injured party could receive compensation for medical bills, car repairs, lost wages from work absences, pain and suffering, and other costs directly resulting from your actions. Without adequate insurance coverage, you’d have to pay these expenses out-of-pocket, possibly costing you thousands of dollars! Avoid needlessly putting your finances in jeopardy and steer clear of vigilante brake taps.

Potential Consequences of Brake Checking
Criminal charges like reckless driving or vehicular assault
Steep court fines and possible jail time
Permanent loss or suspension of driver’s license
Potential for injured party to sue you in civil court
Out-of-pocket payment for others’ damages if uninsured

Understanding the Hazards

Beyond legal repercussions, brake checking is extremely unsafe for everyone involved. Let’s review why it’s an unnecessary danger:

Rear-End Collisions

Sudden, unwarranted braking obviously heightens rear-end crash risks. In your panic, you could crash into them before properly reacting. Or the driver behind you might not stop in time. These high-speed impacts often cause severe whiplash, back and neck injuries, concussions, and more.

Escalated Aggression

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” This saying rings true on the road too. Retaliating against discourteous drivers by brake checking often incites further hostile behaviors from them or surrounding motorists. This spreads unnecessary tension and conflict.

Multi-Vehicle Pileups

As part of the escalation, the brake checked driver might angrily tailgate or brake check you back. If this vicious cycle continues, multiple trailing cars could ultimately crash into the fray, creating a huge pileup. These massive accidents frequently cause terrible injuries and fatalities. Don’t play a part in triggering these preventable tragedies!

Insurance Rate Hikes

Even a seemingly minor brake check-induced fender bender could send your monthly premiums soaring. And after a major at-fault accident caused by brake checking, some insurers may outright cancel your policy. Why risk paying more or losing coverage altogether? It just isn’t financially wise.

Dangers of Brake Checking
Increased rear-end collision risk
Escalated driver aggression and hostility
Potential initiation of major multi-car pileups
Spiked insurance rates or policy cancellation

Choosing Wiser Alternatives

We all get frustrated by inconsiderate motorists. But how can you properly address them without resorting to risky brake taps? Let’s explore smarter options for handling aggressive drivers:

Preserve a Safe Following Distance

Maintaining ample space cushions you from sudden braking scenarios. Experts recommend allowing at least three seconds between you and the vehicle ahead. Be sure to expand this buffer at higher speeds too!

Change Lanes

If an aggressive tailgater is riding your bumper in the left lane, safely signal and change lanes at your first chance to allow them to pass. Don’t antagonize them by tapping your brakes.

Stay Silent

Ignore angry behaviors from other drivers like shouting, horn honking, or hand gesturing. Trading insults or confrontational looks often worsens hostility. Remain calm and carry on your way.

Report Extreme Behaviors

If another motorist is driving so dangerously that you genuinely fear for your safety, call 911 and report them after reaching safety yourself. Give the vehicle make, model, license plate, location and behaviors.

Healthier Responses to Aggressive Drivers
Keep ample following distance
Change lanes to let them pass when possible
Ignore confrontational behaviors from them
Call 911 if you feel endangered

Arriving Safely

We all want to reach our destinations safely while enjoying peaceful drives. By choosing not to brake check, you help cultivate a courteous climate on Washington’s highways for everyone’s benefit. You also minimize risks to yourself legally and financially in the process.

Here’s a quick summary about brake checking’s legality in Washington:

  • No law explicitly banning brake checking
  • But can violate other laws like reckless driving
  • You could face criminal charges, civil lawsuits or insurance impacts
  • Extremely dangerous for all involved drivers
  • Maintain safer following distances and calmer behavior

I hope examining this issue together has helped highlight why brake tapping must be avoided on Washington’s roads, despite not being directly outlawed. Let’s all do our part to spread awareness about brake checking’s hazards while taking the higher road ourselves. Safe travels out there, friend!


1. What are the penalties for brake checking someone in Washington?

Though not directly illegal, punishment could include criminal charges like reckless driving/vehicular assault or civil liability resulting in court fines, possible jail time, license suspension, and out-of-pocket damage payments.

2. Can I get arrested for brake checking in WA?

Yes, law enforcement could choose to arrest you if they believe your brake check was performed with willful, wanton disregard for others’ safety, constituting reckless driving or vehicular assault.

3. Is brake checking considered aggressive driving in Washington State?

Yes, brake checking falls under the definition of aggressive driving, which describes operating a vehicle in a dangerous, hostile, or offensive manner. It is a reckless behavior that jeopardizes public safety.

4. What should I do if someone brake checks me in WA?

Maintain control of your vehicle to prevent a collision. Avoid antagonizing gestures or hostilities which could worsen the situation. If you feel endangered, create distance from the aggressor and alert law enforcement.

5. What are the best ways to respond to tailgaters in Washington?

Ignore the behavior. Preserve a safe buffer zone in front of your vehicle. Don’t tap brakes as communication. If lane availability and traffic flow allow it, move over to let tailgaters pass.

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