A Missouri federal judge, Henry Edward Autrey, ruled this week and held that drivers have a First Amendment right to flash their headlights to warn other motorists of nearby police and speed traps.
The order stems from a lawsuit filed by Ellisville resident Michael Elli. In 2012, Elli flashed his headlights to warn oncoming vehicles of a radar set up by police in the town of Ellisville.
We all know that when an approaching care flashes its headlights it means that there is either a dangerous situation or the presence of police.
A police officer saw the flash of Elli’s lights and pulled him over. He could have faced a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted. Elli, was accused of “[f]lashing lights on certain vehicles . . . warning of RADAR ahead.”
The city later dropped the charge, but the American Civil Liberties Union sued on Elli’s behalf claiming the arrest violated his First Amendment right to free speech and changed its policy after the case went to court and no longer pulls over people for flashing headlights.
Ellisville officials claimed that flashing headlights could interfere with a police investigation. The judge, however, felt the flashing of headlights “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.”
The Takeaway: Flash Away
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