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Federal judge rules drivers allowed to flash headlights to warn of speed traps

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  • Federal judge rules drivers allowed to flash headlights to warn of speed traps

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014...s-speed-traps/

    Federal judge rules drivers allowed to flash headlights to warn of speed traps

    A federal judge in Missouri ruled this week held that drivers have a First Amendment right to flash their headlights to warn other motorists of nearby police and speed traps.

    The order by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey in St. Louis on Monday stems from a lawsuit filed by Ellisville resident Michael Elli. In 2012, Elli flashed his headlights to warn oncoming vehicles of a radar set up by police in the town of Ellisville.

    A flash of headlights is a common way motorists communicate to oncoming drivers of either a dangerous situation or the presence of police — in essence, a warning to slow down.

    An officer saw the flash and pulled over Elli, who could have faced a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted. Elli, was accused of "[f]lashing lights on certain vehicles . . . warning of RADAR ahead," according to court papers obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

    He faced a fine up to $1,000 in addition to points on his license, according to the report.

    The city later dropped the charge, but the American Civil Liberties Union sued on Elli's behalf anyway, claiming the arrest violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

    Ellisville City Attorney George Restovich said the city changed the policy after the case went to court and no longer pulls over people for flashing headlights.

    "The reality is that the injunction doesn't change the way the city has been operating for the past 12 months," Restovich said.

    At a hearing on the lawsuit last year, Ellisville officials made the case that flashing headlights could interfere with a police investigation. But Autrey said in his ruling that the flashing of headlights "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."

    “The chilling effect of Ellisville’s policy and custom of having its police officers pull over, detain, and cite individuals who are perceived as having communicated to oncoming traffic by flashing their headlamps and then prosecuting and imposing fines upon those individuals remains, regardless” of the city’s decision to change its policy, the judge wrote, according to The Wall Street Journal.

    Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU’s Missouri chapter told the Journal's Law Blog that the judge's ruling is a civil rights victory for motorists.

    "When someone is communicating in a public street, [he is] expressing [himself] in a way that’s protected by the First Amendment,” Rothert said. "Unless there is a strong reason why the government should be allowed to censor that speech, the police shouldn’t be stopping or prosecuting people because of the content of their speech."

    If it slows other motorists down, I don't really see the harm in it. I know folks who have been stopped for flashing to warn other motorists, but none of them were ever actually issued a citation.

  • #2
    And those people doing the flashing are probably the first ones to complain that cops aren't going out & catching "real" criminals.
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    • #3
      That is one federal judge in one federal district in one federal circuit.

      It will be appealed to the 8th Circuit............which is pretty conservative & GENERALLY backs law enforcement.


      70% chance of being overturned
      Since some people need to be told by notes in crayon .......Don't PM me with without prior permission. If you can't discuss the situation in the open forum ----it must not be that important

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      • #4
        What's the problem? They're getting people to slow down. LEOs' job is to reduce accidents, not just write tickets for the purpose of writing tickets.
        Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. - Ronald Reagan

        I don't think It'll happen in the US because we don't trust our government. We are a country of skeptics, raised by skeptics, founded by skeptics. - Amaroq

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        • #5
          Originally posted by ateamer View Post
          What's the problem? They're getting people to slow down. LEOs' job is to reduce accidents, not just write tickets for the purpose of writing tickets.
          Yeah, because accidents are NEVER caused by people hitting their breaks when they see someone flash their lights.

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          • #6
            Really, who cares? It's not as if there won't be more violators. Accidents are caused by inattentive driving in all forms, not just sudden braking. The one that caused the accident still gets cited.

            Drive around the block... smoke a cigarette... have a coffee... and set up again. I promise there will be a whole new fresh crop of violators. Better yet, set up near a RR crossing if you have one. Double tap 'em, speeding and disregarding RR signal. Our judges love them.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Shush View Post
              Yeah, because accidents are NEVER caused by people hitting their breaks when they see someone flash their lights.

              That's a major stretch. But, yea, I guess people don't slam their brakes when they see the police either...

              Who is the victim and what is the danger in someone flashing their headlights?

              Would you say people don't slow down with headlights being flashed? Is getting people to slow down the point the purpose of writing speeding tickets? Aren't traffic stops for a police officer a cause of many leo deaths? So if people slow down without you having to put yourself at risk, isnt the mission accomplished?

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Shush View Post
                Yeah, because accidents are NEVER caused by people hitting their breaks when they see someone flash their lights.

                I wouldn't say "never," I'd say almost never to the point of being statistically insignificant.

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                • #9
                  Put me in the "so what?" camp.

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                  • #10
                    If it is day time then they can flash all they want. If it is night time they will get dobbed for failing to dim.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by jannino View Post
                      That's a major stretch. But, yea, I guess people don't slam their brakes when they see the police either...

                      Who is the victim and what is the danger in someone flashing their headlights?

                      Would you say people don't slow down with headlights being flashed? Is getting people to slow down the point the purpose of writing speeding tickets? Aren't traffic stops for a police officer a cause of many leo deaths? So if people slow down without you having to put yourself at risk, isnt the mission accomplished?
                      Its actually not a major stretch.

                      After a ball game one night, my son and his older brother were on their way home. A few cars in front of them was a girl that didn't have much driving experience. The speed limit was 55. Everyone was doing 50. There was a cop car sitting up from the school because he'd been directing traffic out of the intersection. Someone coming the other direction flashed their lights, momentarily blinded/ stunned the girl. She hit her brakes pretty hard. The car behind was a safe distance, but it was sudden and they couldn't help but hit her, and then my son hit them.

                      So everyone can say "statistically improbable" or "statistically insignificant" -- but see if you feel the same when your two sons are in a car accident and you are the responding.

                      Not everyone on the road has the same level of expertise and comfort. I couldn't really care less about the ticket aspect, flashing hi beams at a car that you have no clue how that person may instinctively react - its just unsafe.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by jannino View Post
                        That's a major stretch. But, yea, I guess people don't slam their brakes when they see the police either...
                        That's why I hide. So they don't see me.


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                        I yell "PIKACHU" before I tase someone.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Shush View Post
                          Its actually not a major stretch.

                          After a ball game one night, my son and his older brother were on their way home. A few cars in front of them was a girl that didn't have much driving experience. The speed limit was 55. Everyone was doing 50. There was a cop car sitting up from the school because he'd been directing traffic out of the intersection. Someone coming the other direction flashed their lights, momentarily blinded/ stunned the girl. She hit her brakes pretty hard. The car behind was a safe distance, but it was sudden and they couldn't help but hit her, and then my son hit them.

                          So everyone can say "statistically improbable" or "statistically insignificant" -- but see if you feel the same when your two sons are in a car accident and you are the responding.

                          Not everyone on the road has the same level of expertise and comfort. I couldn't really care less about the ticket aspect, flashing hi beams at a car that you have no clue how that person may instinctively react - its just unsafe.
                          Anyone who reacts to bright lights being flashed by slamming on their brakes has no business operating a vehicle on a public roadway. That concerns me far more than someone speeding.

                          People also have to slam on the brakes for many valid reasons, like avoiding animals\children that dart into the road. The person who hit the car in your example, and your son, were both following too closely.

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                          • #14
                            [deleted]...
                            Last edited by Shush; 02-14-2014, 02:18 PM.

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                            • #15
                              I know of a state trooper who went after a "light flasher" and cited the driver for obstruction of justice.
                              Even as a rook I knew that was a stretch.

                              Personally, it doesn't bother me, but for fun, sometimes if someone flashes at my unmarked vehicle to warn me of an officer ahead, I like to hit my blues and tap my brakes and watch them brake as well.
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