Flash! Drivers have free speech rights!

Courts upholding drivers' right to tip off other motorists to police

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Here’s something we’d like to see law enforcement officers add to their “I-have-bigger-things-to-worry-about” list: drivers who alert fellow motorists to police radar by flashing their lights.

Ticketing someone for a headlight heads-up is not only petty and heavy-handed, it’s a violation of the First Amendment.

The past two decades, state courts nationwide have ruled such driver-to-driver communication is protected free speech.

In the most recent case, an Oregon judge earlier this month tossed out a $260 ticket issued to a trucker for alerting an oncoming driver with a headlight flash.

“The citation was clearly given to punish the defendant for that expression,” the Oregon judge wrote. “The government certainly can and should enforce the traffic laws for the safety of all drivers on the road. However, the government cannot enforce the traffic laws, or any other laws, to punish drivers for their expressive conduct.”

Similar rulings have been handed down in Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. There’s no reason to suspect the outcome would be different in other jurisdictions where such citations have yet to be challenged. Nor should they be.

But really, why would law enforcement even want to push the issue? Doesn’t headlight-flashing encourage motorists to slow down and drive safely? Isn’t that the point of speed traps anyway?

A clampdown on headlight flashers sends the message that police put revenue generation ahead of public safety.

It’s also another way our rights can be eroded – in this case, our free speech rights.

Rather than try to curb our rights, we’d like to see law enforcement agencies remind their officers what our rights are. For example, too often you see cases in which officers wrongfully, and illegally, prevent citizens from videoing their actions.

We’ve got that right, too.

Comments (22) Add comment
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bubbasauce
24322
Points
bubbasauce 04/18/14 - 11:42 pm
7
4
Excellent point. I always

Excellent point. I always flash oncoming traffic to alert them. I see nothing wrong with that.

specsta
7229
Points
specsta 04/19/14 - 01:35 am
13
1
Freedom of the People

ACES wrote - "Rather than try to curb our rights, we’d like to see law enforcement agencies remind their officers what our rights are."

Agreed.

However, I will not hold my breath waiting for the day to come when an officer advises someone of their rights as a citizen. Most people simply believe that because a cop says they can't engage in a particular activity, that it's against the law. A lot of times, cops don't even know the law. A co-worker of mine was written a traffic ticket and the ordinance listed on it wasn't even remotely applicable. My co-worker looked up the state statute. Most people don't.

The problem happens when law enforcement officers allow their egos to take over, where they are always right, even when they are completely wrong.

This is why there is such a low regard for police. Officers who break laws and then ticket or arrest people for breaking those same laws. Just yesterday I observed a deputy speeding on 520, pulling up to someone's bumper and tailgating them, bullying the driver until the driver changed lanes. No emergency, no lights, no siren. Just a selfish cop.

Until police do a better job of being servants of the people and being accountable to the people, the public's perception of them will not change.

Riverman1
94467
Points
Riverman1 04/19/14 - 03:33 am
6
1
Local Case

I recall something like that happening locally not too long ago. The police quoted some silly law.

david jennings
625
Points
david jennings 04/19/14 - 06:04 am
4
7
Why?

Why would I want to be a part of someone breaking the law. Aggressive drivers are only endangering others. The roads are dangerous enough withoout me helping someone with selfish disregard and lack of respect due the responsibility and priviledge of driving. I won't warn you.

augusta citizen
10075
Points
augusta citizen 04/19/14 - 06:39 am
7
1
Both right.

david jennings, you don't want to warn speeders, great, that's your right, you choose not to. bubbasauce on the other hand chooses to, great, that's his right. This is exactly what this editorial is about, our rights of freedom of speech/expression. By the way, I remember our driver's ed teacher telling us to always flash our lights to oncoming traffic if there was an accident, broken down vehicle, funeral procession, etc. as it gave the other drivers a heads-up that there was a need to slow down. I know that's different than speeders, but I just recalled him telling us that.

seenitB4
98779
Points
seenitB4 04/19/14 - 06:37 am
9
4
in this case, our free speech rights.

I agree with this BUT what is amazing is...

Chick filla
Phil on Duck dynasty
Paula Deen
etc etc...

Where were their rights??
I watched Bill OReily on the View this week...you should have seen the sneers---shaking heads--& just plain rudeness from some .....it seems the Dems only want free speech from a few, not all.

nocnoc
49787
Points
nocnoc 04/19/14 - 07:39 am
7
1
Feb 2014 U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey Ruled

Quoting parts of the case transcript: "Flashing ones lights 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."

Also mentioned during the trial:
ACLU.... Law Enforcements stated goal is to control the speed and maintain a safe travel environment. To ticket a person for warning others to obey the Speed Limit would indicate the Speed Enforcement was based on Revenue, and not about controlling the speed and maintaining a safe travel environment.

avidreader
3572
Points
avidreader 04/19/14 - 07:50 am
10
1
Rights? Ha!

I was once stopped for drinking a beer while driving. The beverage in question was an IBC Cream Soda. However, without even taking a brief moment to investigate, the cop was in my face -- rude, crude, and overly aggressive. However, I kissed butt and was soon on my way.

Concerning traffic officers, there are three matters that I always preached to my two sons. First, and most important, don't drink and drive. Second, never remind a policeman of your constitutional rights. Third, just kiss butt and come home.

One never knows what the mood of a police officer is going to be. These guys and gals can add a lot off misery to your day if they choose to do so. They'll come up with something if aggravated by a comment.

I am not overly distrustful of police officers, but I am wary of their power.

david jennings
625
Points
david jennings 04/19/14 - 07:51 am
3
3
For saftey sake yes

Yes that's just it, for saftey not to encourage speeding, anyway, they would only slow down long enough to get past the patrol. Rights rights, lord help us. Right is right if noone does it and wrong is wrong if everyone does it.

itsanotherday1
48437
Points
itsanotherday1 04/19/14 - 08:01 am
7
1
Bingo!

"A clampdown on headlight flashers sends the message that police put revenue generation ahead of public safety."

I rarely flash my lights to warn people of radar, but do appreciate warnings of trouble ahead. Those "heads ups" may save your life if there is road hazards over the top of the next hill.

charlie marlow
166
Points
charlie marlow 04/19/14 - 08:05 am
2
3
seenitB4 - That's not the same

In the cases you cited, the government and its agents were not involved in trying to curtail the free speech rights of the individuals and entities you listed. A lot of people get confused on this topic, but this web comic may help clear some confusion.

jimmymac
48086
Points
jimmymac 04/19/14 - 08:36 am
0
0
RADAR
Unpublished

Speed traps is all about revenue and has nothing to do with trying to slow down traffic. A cop car sitting out in the open will do more to slow down traffic than a car hidden from view. I applaud the judge for his decision and I always flash my lights to warn drivers approaching a radar trap.

nocnoc
49787
Points
nocnoc 04/19/14 - 09:09 am
3
0
When RCSO's Shoulder Cam's arrive and

put to use in the field....

I expect to see some of the nicest LEO's wearing them.

A few will develop problems as needed.

BTW: When will the RCSO share the SOP for the use and when
mandatory activation of the Shoulder Cams is required?

localguy55
5477
Points
localguy55 04/19/14 - 09:14 am
4
0
The self restraint of Law

The self restraint of Law enforcement is the mark of a government respecting the rights of citizens. I'm not sure this has ever existed. A prime example is our elected officials that do not respect the citizens.

But when election time comes around, these same politicians parade around echoing what they have done for the people or what they will do if re-elected.

Law enforcement is no different. They want you to believe they are our friends and they serve the public. But they love the power they have over the citizens and crave money just like any other government entity and will do whatever they can get away with to demonstrate their authority.

This is not necessarily corruption in as much as it is a by-product of having an armed government agency that is, for the most part, insulated from prosecution of their actions.

There are checks and balances in place to curb and prevent an out of control government entities, but any government agency will always push the boundaries if there is not opposition to them, and even if there is opposition they will still try to justify their actions.

We are seeing this today especially from our Federal government. and until we as citizens push back and stop these government entities they will go as far as we allow them to until we become a police state with no freedoms left to speak of.

OJP
7779
Points
OJP 04/19/14 - 09:33 am
3
7
seenitB4

Is the government involved? If not, then it is not a free speech issue. Chick-fil-A, the Duck Dynasty folks, etc., were not forced to do anything by the government.

Their rights WERE NOT violated.

CobaltGeorge
177269
Points
CobaltGeorge 04/19/14 - 09:44 am
6
3
Their Rights WERE NOT Violated.

Then, why in living hell did it become a BIG News issue?

Darby
29609
Points
Darby 04/19/14 - 10:52 am
5
0
It's been a strange week

for me.

Twice now, I've agreed with Specsta. Is that an omen of some kind?

Sweet son
11793
Points
Sweet son 04/19/14 - 11:49 am
4
0
Don't mess with the police! LOL!

They don't like for you to flash lights and they really don't like you to take their picture. Did it the other day and was instructed to delete the picture. I told the Deputy it wasn't going to happen and reluctantly I was left alone.

willie Lee
423
Points
willie Lee 04/19/14 - 12:08 pm
0
0
Remember...ego
Unpublished

These cops are in the profession because of their ego and their inability to do anything else. There is no concern for rights.

nocnoc
49787
Points
nocnoc 04/19/14 - 12:56 pm
4
0
OCGA & USC allow recording of Public conversations and video

In November of 2012, the US Supreme Court upheld that police officers do not have an expectation of privacy while working in public, therefore can be recorded without prior approval.

If USSC ruled it OK then GA must allow it.

GiantsAllDay
10562
Points
GiantsAllDay 04/19/14 - 01:09 pm
3
1
So can anyone tell me whether

So can anyone tell me whether or not flashing head lights is against the law?

Truth Matters
8105
Points
Truth Matters 04/19/14 - 01:34 pm
1
6
"Then, why in living hell did

"Then, why in living hell did it become a BIG News issue?"

Because of TV ratings.
It vanished as soon as the next BIG news issue surfaced.

Many Americans have the attention span of a toddler.

edcushman
7930
Points
edcushman 04/19/14 - 03:35 pm
4
1
" Many Americans have the
Unpublished

" Many Americans have the attention span of a toddler."
TM, I agree we have many ignorant voters.

nocnoc
49787
Points
nocnoc 04/19/14 - 08:04 pm
2
0
GAD - It is legal to flash lights

A Federal Court Judge ruled so.
Then back in Feb 2014, the US Supreme Court refused to take up the case, there by letting it stand as law.

It is now considered no different than flashing your lights to warn some to obey traffic laws or a reminder to turn their lights on at dusk or during the rain.

oldredneckman96
5115
Points
oldredneckman96 04/19/14 - 08:07 pm
0
0
Coins
Unpublished

You can not stand watch for a bank robber and warn them of the cops comming. That is just one side of the coin on headlights. Warning of a wreck or the oncomming car with off road or high beam lamps on is another side. Warning of a speed trap is a third side.

MTBer
660
Points
MTBer 04/19/14 - 09:30 pm
0
3
Nope

Never, ever, do I flash to warn a driver of a radar trap, or a police officer sitting beside the road ahead. If you are going that much over the posted limit, you deserve to be hit with the heavy backhand. If you are going that much over the posted speed limit, you probably are one of the jerks that will stick your nose under my bumper because I am only doing 4mph over the limit today.

I will, every time, flash an oncoming driver to make them aware of danger on the road, especially on many backroads we have here in SC and GA.

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