The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is using the case of a Missouri man to challenge a municipal law — one of dozens, if not hundreds of similar laws throughout the United States — that punishes motorists who flash their headlights at oncoming drivers to alert them to a police presence in their path of travel.
The ACLU of Eastern Missouri has filed a class action suit against the City of Ellisville after learning of what happened to Michael Elli, a resident who was pulled over by a local cop and cited for “flashing [his] lights to warn of radar ahead.” He was told in court he would have to pay a customary $1,000 in fines, but the charge was later dismissed after Elli put up more resistance than other unfortunate motorists who’d preceded him.
An ACLU attorney went straight to the heart of the deceptive evil inherent in the law:
Those who use their First Amendment rights to warn others to drive cautiously should not be punished for their message. After all, the purpose of traffic laws is to promote safety, not generate revenue.
Well said — although it could have been even more precise.
There’s a tremendous case to be made for exercising one’s 1st Amendment rights not merely to “warn others to drive cautiously” but to “warn others that cops are over the hill indiscriminately mining for probable cause so that they can stop strangers who aren’t under investigation and possibly violate their 4th Amendment rights in the process.”
With the ACLU taking up the case, Elli is the named plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city. The outcome could set a precedent to legal challenges in States like Alaska and Arizona, where it’s against the law to flash your headlights as a gesture to other motorists for any reason.
Do local laws deter you from flashing your lights at other drivers? Would they? Sound off in the comments.