Why Did This Cop Brake-Check A Driver?

I’ll admit, I’m sort of puzzled by this one. This dashcam video was shot by a driver in Clifton, NJ, and it seems pretty unremarkable, just a guy driving behind a police car in good weather and fairly light traffic, at speeds of around 25 MPH or so. Then the police car brake-checks the driver. Why?

Go ahead and watch the video there so we can all be on the same page. The dashcam is giving the speed, which looks reasonable for the area and weather. The distance the driver is behind the cop – ostensibly the reason all this happened in the first place – really doesn’t strike me as all that terrible.


At one point, the driver of the 2006 Infiniti M35x estimates that he’s a car length behind the cop, but I actually think it’s a bit more than that, possibly about two car lengths, which is fine for the speeds and conditions, I’d think.

Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t have to guess. There’s a point in the video where they pass a parked Ford SUV; if we just grab the frame just where the cop car passes the SUV, and then superimpose the frame where the car with the dashcam approaches the rear of that same SUV, we can see that he’s a solid two SUV-lengths behind the police car. At 27 MPH, on dry roads, that seems reasonable.


Of course, the police officer clear didn’t agree with me, which is why he did what he did: he stopped very suddenly and unexpectedly slammed on his brakes.

It sure seems like a brake-check, and the officer pretty much admits that’s what he did, saying:

“I braked ‘cause I – I thought you were gonna run into me.”

Now, this is the crux of what’s so confusing here, so let’s take a moment to think about this. Let’s say that the officer did, in fact, feel that the driver, for whatever reason, was driving too close behind him. Why the hell would he think the best thing to do would be to stop suddenly?


He comes out and says he thought the driver was going to hit him, which is why he braked – the one action that’s almost guaranteed to cause the tailgating driver to impact his patrol car.

Doesn’t that seem like a remarkably terrible idea? There was no one in front of the police car; the officer could have sped up just a tiny bit, put on his blue lights, and pulled the driver over. Easily.


Instead, he decided that the best plan was to actually try and cause an accident? Even if we put aside the idea that any of the people in both cars could have been injured, what about placing a Clifton, NJ patrol car in danger of needless damage? They don’t make those Crown Vics anymore, remember? You gotta treat them better than that.

I just can’t figure out what the police officer’s motives were here. Did he want the driver to hit him? Why? I mean, sure, the driver had a couple of minor infractions with his car – no front plate displayed, what seems to be illegal tint – but he certainly wasn’t driving recklessly or dangerously, and certainly doesn’t seem like he deserves to be forced into an wreck with a police car.


Also, the fact that he didn’t actually hit the cop car suggests that the distance he was driving was, in fact, safe enough. Did the cop know this, and just wanted to scare the guy for some reason?

In the comment thread about this video where it was posted at NICOclub, it’s noted that the point at which the police officer decides to slam on the brakes is when there was a parked car to the right and an approaching car to the left, effectively cutting off any ability to swerve out of the way. Was that intentional? If so, why? Am I reading too much into this? Do they know where I am?


The good news is everyone stays pretty civil throughout the exchange, and it doesn’t escalate into something stupid, so good for everyone involved. I’m just still baffled that this happened at all.

Was the guy too close? Was the cop right to brake-check? Did the cop actually think he’d get hit by the Infiniti? Was he just being a dick? There’s a lot to discuss here.


We’ve reached out to the Clifton, NJ police department for comment, and will update when and if we get a response.

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Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)