Judge Rules That Flashing Of Headlights Is Free Speech


2011 Dodge Charger Pursuit police vehicle

2011 Dodge Charger Pursuit police vehicle

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In most states, it’s common practice to flash your headlights to warn of road hazards ahead. The warning can apply to a wide range of dangers, but it’s most often used to warn oncoming motorists about police speed enforcement.

In a perfect world, law enforcement would support this behavior, since (in theory, anyway) it has a similar traffic-calming effect to the presence of a police vehicle. In the real world, however, speed enforcement is as much (or perhaps more) about revenue generation as it is about public safety.

On August 10 of last year, Ryan Kinter was ticketed in Seminole County, Florida, for flashing his headlights to warn oncoming drivers of a pending speed trap. As the Orlando Sentinel reports, a Seminole County deputy ticketed Kinter under a statute meant to prohibit civilians from using flashing emergency lights on their vehicles.

Kinter and his attorney, J. Marcus Jones, argued that the statute cited by police did not apply, and that communication between motorists, via flashing lights, is protected as free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A Florida Circuit Court Judge, Alan Dickey, agreed with both arguments, and ordered the Seminole County Sheriff’s Department to cease ticketing motorists who flash headlights.

The ruling bodes well for a second suit, on the same grounds, that Kinter and Jones have pending against the Florida Highway Patrol. Both police agencies have already stopped ticketing drivers for this practice, even before Kinter’s case against Seminole County was heard.

Ironically, the ruling does nothing to mitigate Kinter’s original ticket, nor a second ticket issued for failure to stop at a stop sign. Both citations are still pending, which means that Kinter’s experience with the Seminole County court system isn’t over just yet.
 
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