Have you ever been brake-checked by the car in front of you?
Most of us have, and you may wonder who is liable if you get into a wreck because someone brake-checked you on the highway? Although most rear-end crashes are caused by the driver who hits the back of the car in front of them, that’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
The rules of negligence apply, and, if the driver in front of you caused a brake-check accident, they should be liable and they are responsible for paying for your damages if we can prove how the accident happened.
Below, we will discuss what a brake-check is, whether it is illegal in SC, how you prove liability for a brake-check crash, and how to avoid an accident caused by someone brake-checking you on the road.
What’s a Brake-Check?
Brake-checking is a form of road rage. The car in front of you thinks that you are driving too close to their bumper or that you are doing something that they don’t like, so they slam on brakes to startle you and to “punish you” for your transgressions.
When people do this, it often results in a moment of anger and annoyance, then everyone moves on down the road and forgets about it.
The problem is, when someone brake-checks you, you might slam into the back of their car and serious injuries could result. There is little time to react, and the resulting crash may involve other cars if you must swerve to avoid the vehicle in front of you.
Is Brake-Checking Illegal in SC?
SC does not have a law that is specific to brake-checking, but there are other traffic laws that apply. For example, SC Code Section 56-5-2920, reckless driving, makes it a crime punishable by up to 30 days in jail to drive “any vehicle in such a manner as to indicate either a wilful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”
Who is Liable for a Brake-Check Crash in SC?
Although you may have heard (and the driver in front of you may have heard) that the driver in the back is always liable for a rear-end crash, that is not true.
The same rules of negligence apply that apply in any other auto accident case – the person whose negligence caused the accident is liable. If you are driving down the road, not paying attention, and you fail to see the car in front of you slowing down for a red light, you are probably responsible for the accident if you hit their car from behind.
On the other hand, if the car in front of you slams on their brakes unexpectedly and intentionally, 1) they are liable for driving negligently and recklessly, and 2) they are committing a traffic violation – a crime that may be negligence per-se if it is proven.
So how do you prove it?
The other driver might say they did not slam on brakes and that you were liable for the accident because you were not keeping a proper lookout when you hit their vehicle from behind. It is then on you and your attorney to prove that the other driver slammed on brakes either intentionally or negligently through evidence like:
- Your testimony,
- Testimony of any passengers in your vehicle,
- Testimony of other witnesses like other drivers, pedestrians, or people in nearby businesses,
- Traffic cameras, surveillance cameras from nearby businesses, or dashcams on your vehicle or another witness’s vehicle, or
- “Black box” evidence from the vehicles, if available.
Even if you prove that the other driver was negligent for slamming on brakes, their insurance company’s attorneys will likely say that you were at least partially at fault for driving too close to the vehicle in front of you.
Why? Because SC follows what is called the comparative negligence rule.
If you are more than 50% at fault in an accident, you cannot recover damages. If you are at fault but less than 50%, your recovery is reduced by the percentage of fault that is assigned to you by the jury.
How Can You Avoid a Brake-Check Accident?
Although it can be difficult to avoid what amounts to an intentional act by another driver experiencing road rage, you may be able to avoid getting brake-checked by:
- Driving the speed limit,
- Passing only in the left lane,
- Maintaining a safe distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you, and
- Distancing yourself and your vehicle from other drivers who appear to be experiencing road rage.
If you were involved in an accident caused by a reckless driver who brake-checked you, you may be entitled to compensation.