By Rachael Mason, THELAW.TV
Is it legal to flash your headlights to warn drivers that the police are checking for speeders?
Depending on where you drive, you may or may not be familiar with this unwritten road code—after you pass a cop who seems to be checking for speeders, you’ll flash your headlights to warn drivers coming in the opposite direction what they’re about to encounter. It seems like common courtesy, right?
This practice could also get you a ticket. In 2011, a resident of Lake Mary, Fla. was caught flashing his lights to let other drivers know about an upcoming speed trap and was ticketed by county police.
The driver who got the ticket, however, sued the county, “accusing it of misconstruing a state law and violating his civil rights, principally his right to free speech,” reported the Orlando Sentinel. The Florida law in question was enacted to stop drivers from adding aftermarket police-like flashing lights to their cars, but, in this case, had been used to justify ticketing the driver who flashed his headlights.
In May 2012, a judge ruled in the driver’s favor. In addition, the judge said that using headlights to communicate was free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution,
As of January 1, 2013, flashing your headlights to alert oncoming drivers that police are lurking on the roadside ahead will no longer be illegal in Florida.
In other states, however, flashing your headlights is still not allowed. “Police can interpret flashing headlights a number of ways—at least until someone successfully challenges the citations in court—and cite drivers for offenses such as obstruction of justice, illegal flashing lights within the vehicle or blinding other drivers.”
In North Dakota and Washington, drivers are not permitted to flash their lights for any reason. “Courts in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia have interpreted their states’ laws as protected free speech.”
In Houston, Texas, however, a woman who chose to warn drivers about an upcoming speed trap spent 12 hours in jail.
In this 2012 case, the woman wasn’t using her headlights. In fact, she was actually riding a bicycle when she noticed the police looking for speeders. She got off her bike, made a quick warning sign and then stood in the street so that drivers could see it. She was arrested for “for standing in the street where there a sidewalk was present, a misdemeanor charge.
So, if you choose to warn other drivers about police ahead, be careful of the methods you use. And when you’re driving somewhere unfamiliar, be sure to remember that laws concerning headlight use do vary from state to state.