The legality of flashing your lights to warn other drivers of upcoming speed traps is a hotly contested topic.
It’s a common sight on the road. You’re driving along when you notice an oncoming car flashing their lights at you as they pass. You know that this means that there are police up ahead and you react by slowing down to avoid a speeding ticket. Is this legal? Based on recent court rulings, it appears that this type of communication is allowed.
A man in Florida who was recently ticketed for this behaviour decided to sue the County Sheriff’s Office for violating his civil rights. The judge ruled that the driver was exercising his right to free speech when he flashed his lights to warn another driver of an upcoming speed trap. The judge further stated that this type of communication is protected by the First Amendment and the driver was therefore acting legally. The man won his case and the County police are now being told that they should not issue tickets to drivers for flashing their lights in this manner.
It’s an interesting question. Regarding this case, Judge Alan Dickey stated, “If the goal of the traffic law is to promote safety and not to raise revenue, then why wouldn’t we want everyone who sees a law enforcement officer with a radar gun in his hand, blinking his lights to slow down all those other cars?”. In other words, Judge Dickey feels that the result of this activity will be to slow drivers down, and that will result in safer driving. Therefore, he feels that the outcome is positive.
However, not everyone agrees with this sentiment. Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations, thinks that flashing your headlights interferes with laws that are designed to make driving safe. “Warning oncoming traffic that there are law enforcement officers ahead allows a speeder to slow down until he passes the officers – and then he starts speeding again,” Roberts said.
In the past, drivers in New Jersey, Ohio and Tennessee have challenged similar tickets that they have received for warning other motorists by honking their horn or flashing their headlights, and the courts have similarly determined that this activity is protected under the First Amendment.
Currently, it appears that police officers are no longer issuing tickets for flashing headlights to warn other drivers of speed traps, but the future legality of this activity is uncertain.
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