It’s Legal to Warn Other Drivers That the Cops Are Nearby

Headlight flashing is protected by the First Amendment, a judge has ruled.


Flashing your headlights to warn other drivers of an upcoming speed trap or police presence is common practice with many drivers. A federal court judge in Missouri recently ruled that prohibiting drivers to flash their lights in warning violates their First Amendment right to free speech.

U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey in St. Louis ruled on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Michael Elli, who was given a ticket in Ellisville, Mo., after he flashed his headlights to warn oncoming vehicles of a radar set up by Ellisville police.

Although the charge against Elli was dropped, the ACLU filed a lawsuit, claiming the arrest violated his First Amendment rights.

Ellisville no longer pulls over people for flashing headlights. The city changed its policy after the case went to court.

Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU’s Missouri chapter, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the ruling on the issue is a first, and that other jurisdictions that are issuing similar tickets should take note.

“If we hear about it happening after today, we will contact them, and ask them to stop,” he said.

Do you flash your headlights to warn other drivers that the police are nearby? Have you ever gotten a ticket for it? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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