Federal Judge Forces Missouri Town To Stop Ticketing Drivers Who Flash Their Lights To Warn Of Speed Traps

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Last summer, we told you about a Missouri man who, with the help of the ACLU, was fighting against one municipality’s effort to prosecute motorists who flash their headlights to alert other drivers to the presence of speed traps. Last week, Michael Elli – and everyone else who drives through the town of Ellisville, Mo. – won.

A U.S. district judge issued a permanent injunction against Ellisville last Wednesday barring law enforcement from “detaining, seizing, citing, or prosecuting any individual within the City of Ellisville for communicating by flashing his or her automobile headlamps.”

Judge Edward Autrey based his injunction, in part, on the 1st Amendment, having issued a preliminary order in February in which he noted that “the expressive conduct at issue sends a message to bring one’s driving in conformity with the law—whether it be by slowing down, turning on one’s own headlamps at dusk or in the rain, or proceeding with caution.”

Autrey had issued that temporary order in spite of the fact that local officials pledged not to continue ticketing drivers for flashing their headlights, if only the judge would let the local law stand. He issued the injunction anyway.

Although the ruling represents a decisive victory for 1st Amendment advocates who regard signaled communication as speech, the fact remains that different States treat the practice differently. As Reason observed in its report Wednesday, flashing one’s headlights to “warn other motorists of speed traps remains subject to a hodgepodge of laws across the United States—protected in some places, forbidden in others, and punished by cops under creative interpretations of local rules in many jurisdictions.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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