Unfortunately this is a very real, but quite rare, part of driving that hopefully you will never experience: a person deliberately stages an accident which looks like your fault, but is really designed to achieve them an insurance payout, or as an act of road rage. They might want to get a part of their car resprayed (at your expense), or even risk personal injury to write the car off. In some countries (e.g. Russia) this is so prevalent that truck drivers usually drive with forward facing cameras. You only need to search on YouTube before you find many examples of people brake-testing large trucks (cutting in front of a truck and then braking heavily).
Fortunately there are ways in which you can avoid the majority of these attempts, but it requires that you are particularly alert and you use your hazard observation skills. Therefore the first step is to set your mirrors correctly (read this article if you don’t know how).
In the case of premeditated crashes where the driver simply wants to do damage to their vehicle or themselves it’s quite difficult to crash with just the right amount of force to do the damage you need, but without risking personal injury. Drivers that intend to do this often drive erratically just before doing making their manoeuvre, and may even have one or more aborted attempts.
There are a few places which make it easier for a driver to stage this kind of crash:
- Two lanes turn left or right and they drift from the inside lane to the outside lane (it’s difficult for you to prove you didn’t cut them off by cutting the corner)
- Motorway on ramps (if you are entering, take care to match your speed with that of other traffic and watch for drivers moving from the middle lane into the left lane while you are entering; if another vehicle is entering, move to the middle lane temporarily if it looks like they are driving erratically, and slow down – i.e. increase your safety buffer)
- Pedestrian crossings, traffic lights and roundabouts (usually brake testing you if you’re following too closely) – make sure you leave at least 2 seconds between you and the vehicle in front in dry weather.
In the case of road rage, you have to handle this tactfully. If you made a genuine mistake, offer an apologetic look or wave; it’s best not to inflame the situation. I saw a situation once where a driver refused to let another driver into a queue of traffic waiting to turn onto the motorway from the left-hand lane of a dual carriageway. The first car was turning right from a side street on the right on the dual carriageway and had to cross two lanes of oncoming traffic, then wait in the right-hand lane, blocking traffic in the relatively free-flowing lane from proceeding. The driver in the left-hand lane deliberately blocked this driver not just once, but twice as the turning driver tried to edge into the gap in front of him (which was the logical place to go), the situation escalated and the driver who had turned rammed his car into the front fender of the driver that wouldn’t yield. This was a completely avoidable situation.
In the case that someone is angry with you, it’s best for you to yield to them and let them go. You can pull over and let them past, but try to avoid an actual confrontation as you don’t know whether the person who is angry is like that because they are on drugs and might not be in control of their emotions. If you pull over and the other driver pulls over, too, try pulling over in a petrol station or other public space.
What to do if you have a collision you think is staged or deliberate
The first thing is to call an ambulance if there are injuries, then call the police and immediately inform them that you think the other driver has driven into you deliberately. Then take as many photos of the scene as possible. Avoid confrontation, though. If you can record the actions of the other driver this might help you in any claim. If you can sketch the scene, this will help even more as photographs often miss crucial position details and leave a lot to be inferred.
Try to get witness details. Write the details of the vehicle of the person that hit you.
A dashboard camera will provide fairly reliable evidence in your defence, although it’s more difficult to prove what happened if the impact come from behind you.
Collecting as much evidence as you can will help you avoid a fraud claim by another driver. Having comprehensive insurance gives you the least risk of having to make a large payout for your vehicle and the other person’s vehicle should the decision not go your way.