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SAN DIEGO — It’s a scenario commonly experienced on roadways: a driver from behind gets too close to one’s bumper, potentially resulting in feelings of nervousness and even anger.

Those emotions could prompt the driver to try to get the trailing driver to slow down by pumping the brakes, which is considered “brake checking.” But before doing so, the driver should think again, because it could be a punishable offense.

California Highway Patrol Officer Hunter Gerber told in an email that brake checking could fall under California Vehicle Code 22400(a). According to the California State Legislature, under this law, “No person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic unless the reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, because of a grade, or in compliance with law.”

Brake checking, along with tailgating, is a form of aggressive driving — acts that are “performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for the safety of others and are commonly referred to as road rage,” Gerber says.

He added that “to intentionally apply your brakes because somebody is tailgating you” could be a violation of California Vehicle Code 22109.

“No person shall stop or suddenly decrease the speed of a vehicle on a highway without first giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter to the driver of any vehicle immediately to the rear when there is opportunity to give the signal,” the law reads on the California State Legislature’s website.

If a driver is pulled over for brake checking in violation of vehicle code 22400(a) in San Diego County, they can face up to $238 in fines, San Diego County Superior Court spokeswoman Emily Cox told in an email, adding that fees may vary by courts across the state.

CHP advises that drivers remain calm and courteous in order to decrease their chance of getting tangled up in encounters with other drivers. The agency reminds drivers to:

  • Maintain adequate following distance;
  • Use turn signals;
  • Allow others to merge;
  • Use your high beams responsibly;
  • Tap your horn if you must (but no long blasts with accompanying hand gestures).

Gerber added that drivers should not react or retaliate if they have agitated another driver, because that will only cause the situation to escalate. He adds these tips:

  • Avoid eye contact with angry drivers;
  • Do not respond to aggression with aggression;
  • Keep your distance;
  • Have passengers record the incident if possible;
  • Have an escape route;
  • Do not drive home if the aggressive driver continues to follow you;
  • If you feel you are at risk, call 9-1-1, and drive to a police station;
  • If you are confronted, stay as calm and courteous as possible;
  • If you feel threatened, call 9-1-1. Be prepared to give the description of the driver, vehicle, license plate number, location, and direction of travel.