In Some States, Flashing Your Headlights To Warn About Speed Traps Will Get You In Trouble

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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.

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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  • independent thinker

    I do not flash my headlights to warn other drivers of police ahead because you do not know who you are flashing. You could be flashing someone who is DUI and should not even be on the road that the police might stop and catch if you do not warn them.

    • Anthony Clay

      wow your someone i would luv never to meet

      • independent thinker

        That is good cause I have no desire to meet you either.

        • Justsomeguy151

          Because yr obviously a statist [comment has been edited]

    • maddcatt1

      While I agree people should not drink and drive and if they do I too hope they get caught before they hurt someone. I assure you there are many more non-drunk drivers on the road that could use a break, and you apparently wish bad luck on all. Nice of you independent stinker.

  • TexasOlTimer

    There are many reasons to flash your lights at another car. It might not have its lights on in conditions that would require them. Big trucks flash their lights at another truck that is passing them to let the other truck know they are clear and can move over. I’m told that in various areas around the country it has different meanings and there’s always the possibility it was done by accident. Are the thought police now going to say they KNOW what you are thinking when you flash your lights?

    Those with CBs, today primarily big trucks, routinely warn others of police stopped in any area whether sitting with radar watching traffic or with vehicles stopped beside the road. Why would one way of warning other motorists be held against the law and not another?

    • chocopot

      In my area, at night the drivers flash their lights at each other to warn of deer on or near the road ahead. We have many, many deer and they cause numerous serious accidents every year.

    • FreedomFighter

      Flash Flash — you aint getting his cash…

      Laus Deo
      Semper FI

    • http://www.OlGreyGhost.Blogspot.com/ Ol’ Grey Ghost

      Here in the Republic (Texas for you non-Texans), flashing one’s lights to warn others of traffic hazards, like radar-wielding police officers, is specifically exempted in the law…

      • http://www.OlGreyGhost.Blogspot.com/ Ol’ Grey Ghost

        Here is the law in the Republic…

        http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.38.htm#38.05

        Note section “b.” This has been used to protect people who flash their headlights, tell smokers they are smoking in a non-smoking section, and who warn their neighbors that their music is too loud…

    • vicki

      Besides it is a courtesy to the officer cause it warns other drivers to be careful and watch for them so they don’t accidentally run into them

  • TeaParty Patriot (TTP)

    .
    I have very frequently flashed my headlights to let oncoming motorists know that there is some kind of traffic hazzard ahead be it a police trap, slick spot, an accident or in some states livestock in the road or something lying in the road.

  • JustMe

    I see many people routinely flashing headlight. It is usually to warn of deer or someone’s livestock out on the road. The laws against this are simply for revenue generation and have nothing to do with safety.

  • Leon Grant

    Flashing headlights is only a method of alerting an on coming motorist of any danger !! Use it often to allow motorist to make a turn in front of me to avoid misshaps.

  • dan

    up in the North-woods…flashing your lights is almost always about: WAKE UP and DIM your lights ,you moron….
    if you blind me I can’t see the damned deer ,either !!!!!!

  • maddcatt1

    I flash to tell
    on coming drivers to dim there high beams, or to turn on their lights. I would defiantly
    fight a ticket for that!

  • Dan

    One place I worked at had driveways on the main street but also on the side street., local police set up a speed trap with the timeing strips laid out across the street but the car was parked across the drive way on the side street.

    I told them they couldn’t block our driveway and asked them to move the car.

  • IBCAMN

    cops think they are god and can tell you what to do,they can’t!in Wisconsin i always flash lights to warn people of those legally armed thugs with badges on the roads!
    cops are simply tax collectors and revanue makers,nothing more,they are not peace officers anymore!know your rights,fight back!if they try to impose a illegal law or ordinance on you,fight back,make it a pain in their side to even want to pull you over!most cops are too stupid to remember the laws,they just make crap up and hope your stupid enough to just pay it!
    it’s simple to just look up your local laws(ordinance)and be able to tell them,”have a good day and drive safe,goodbye officer”,if they want to press it,go to court(make them show up on their day off!)chances are it will get dropped!

  • Dave

    Speeding laws are tax revenue generation for municipalities that do not have the guts to actually raise taxes to pay for our schools, infrastructure etc.
    AZ used to not care about speed but now that we are broke, there are armies of police looking to scam motorists. Bravo to the ACLU!

  • pamela smith

    Florida it use to get you a ticket but not any more. I flash mine to warn of speed traps.Today it is hard to make it without having a speeding ticket of 12.00 for every mile you are over.

  • Burglary

    I’m a retired Police Sgt. from CA, Traffic violations have turned into a source of inccome for States and Cities and it shouldn’t be. They were ment to change driving habits. In a 22 work day month I wrote and avg. of 25 tickets a month for 10 years.

  • Bob Rice

    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.
    Any reason?? I flash to let others know of dangerous situations ahead, astalled car, cow in the road, bicyclists riding, what evr might be a reason for extra caution.