Flashing Headlights May Be Considered Free Speech
You’re driving down a highway and focusing on the road when you notice someone up ahead flashing his or her lights at you. Instinctively, you slow your vehicle down and start obeying speed limits. There aren’t very many people who have driven down a road or highway and have not had someone flash their lights at them. No matter where you’re from, flashing headlights or high beams has a universal message – slow down or watch out, there are police nearby.
For some, flashing headlights can be seen as a way to warn other motorists of a radar or speed trap near by, a courtesy from driver to driver. But for those others who flash lights to warn drivers of an impending drinking and driving road block, it can be seen by lawmakers and police as a way of impeding justice and potentially letting a drinking driver get away with driving over the legal limit.
The debate over the courtesy of flashing headlights at other drivers is coming to a head. A bill has been introduced into New Jersey legislature recently that could make the practice of flashing lights to warn other motorists legal. In addition to that bill, a Missouri federal court recently declared the flashing of lights to be free speech and that law enforcement could not prohibit it. The judge banned law enforcement from ticketing motorists who were caught in the act.
Ticketing those who have been cited for flashing lights is seen as a cash grab, but these legal steps are not addressing the potential danger of flashing lights to warn others away from speed traps or road blocks set up to catch those drinking and driving. Lawmakers are also concerned that if the flashing of lights is seen as free speech, those who are pulled over specifically for flashing lights and have been found to be drinking and driving could use the law to avoid charges.
The debate will continue on whether the flashing of lights is a personal right given to each driver, but if you decide to flash your lights while driving, be sure you’re aware of the local laws in your state before you do so.