Brake check

Q&A with Sharon Peters

Q: Friends (all younger) were talking at lunch with some enthusiasm about “brake-checking” a driver who seemed to be aggressive or a jerk or something. I didn’t want to sound hopelessly out of touch, but I don’t know what the term means. Can you enlighten me?

A: When you brake-check someone, you hit your brakes (usually really hard) to scare or cause the driver who’s tailgating you to back off. Naturally, the goal (not always achieved) is to send the “back-off” message and not wind up with a stranger’s car in your back seat.

There are some who are great supporters of this particular approach, on the grounds that all tailgaters are jerks (I can’t argue that point), and if it leads to an accident, it’s going to be the tailgater who gets ticketed (for following too closely to avoid collision) and whose insurance company will be paying for whatever badness happens to the brake-checker’s car.

But here’s the deal. Sometimes when there’s an accident during this kind of incident, it’s not just a fender-bender. Often it’s a significant accident and there can be injuries, so it’s not just one of those justifiable revenge actions that leaves everyone cheering.

There’s this too: Although the tailgater will almost certainly get a ticket, increasingly the brake-checker is getting ticketed, too, for creating a hazard or for reckless operation resulting in an accident.

Best thing to do if someone’s following too close: just get out of the way when it’s safe to do so. If you’re on the interstate, move over into a different lane or even pull off to the breakdown lane until the oh-so-important tailgater can move ahead and begin terrorizing someone else. And call to report him/her to the state patrol or other constabulary. Some agencies and some states are more relentless about pursuing aggressive drivers than others. It’s worth making the effort.

Q: My mother has Alzheimer’s and the doctor says she’s still OK to drive. I don’t think so. I need more information. Is anything out there to guide me?

A: I really like “At The Crossroads: Family Conversations About Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and Driving.” It’s free, from The Hartford, the insurance group. You can download it by going to

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What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email