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Flashing headlights: Federal judge rules it is legal to warn fellow-drivers

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Flashing headlights to warn other drivers of a speed trap ahead has been ruled as a form of free speech by United States District Judge Henry E. Autrey in St. Louis, Missouri on Monday. The ‘flashing headlights’ ruling is based on a lawsuit that was filed by Michael Elli of Ellisville, according to a Fox News report on Tuesday.

In 2012, Elli was traveling through the town of Ellisville and flashed his headlights to warn motorists of a police radar that had been set up to catch speeders. A police officer saw Elli flash his lights as a warning and pulled him over. The actual charge against the driver was “flashing lights on certain vehicles… warning of RADAR ahead.” The man could have been fined up to $1,000 if convicted in court and had points added on his driver’s license.

Even though the city dropped the charges late, the American Civil Liberties Union took it upon itself to sue on Elli’s behalf. The ACLU’s claim was that the arrest of Elli was a violation of his First Amendment right of free speech. The judge asserted that flashing one’s headlights for one to bring his or her driving in conformity with the law – whether it is slowing down, turning on one’s own headlamps at dusk or in the rain, or proceeding with caution.

The city of Ellisville tried to make a claim that the flashing of lights could interfere with an investigation, but the federal judge didn’t buy it. Flashing headlights to warn fellow-motorists in oncoming lanes is legal due to one's freedom of speech on the street. This should have implications for those stopped and charged with wrongdoing when they warn drivers of a speed trap in the future.