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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  • ModernMode

    I flash my lights, but only after out of sight of the cop. Even if you’re right, they can still ruin your day.

    • ManoaHi

      They sure can ruin your day, but more to the point two days. They can issue the ticket and you have to go to court. You’ll likely win, because the Police probably won’t show up. You win by default, But that wastes your time twice, once for getting stopped, once for appearing in court.

  • soverytired

    I don’t warn other drivers anymore unless the speed trap is set up unfairly like at the bottom of a long hill. I feel like so many drivers are driving way too fast especially during poor road conditions. I do flash my headlights at oncoming drivers to warn of a hazard on the road ahead of them

  • Dallas Cheked

    Every US citizen has the absolute right to know when, where and if he/she is under surveillance. A responsible citizen will relay that message to others some way, somehow and has every right to do so.

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