Federal Judge: Drivers Are Allowed to Warn Others of Speed Traps

You’ve done it, I hope. You are driving down the road and you see a police car lying in wait to pull over unsuspecting drivers. So, after you have passed, you let traffic coming from the opposite direction know there is a police car ahead—by flashing your brights a couple of times.

A federal judge in Missouri, Henry Autrey, has ruled that this practice—warning other drivers of speed traps—is legal and protected by the First Amendment.  The issue came up because a man (Michael Elli) in Ellisville, Missouri was pulled over and cited for flashing his lights to notify other drivers to slow down. He challenged the citation and even filed suit against the Ellisville Police Department. They dropped the charges against him (which could have resulted in a $1,000 fine), but they continued to fight Elli’s suit.

But Autrey ruled in Elli’s favor. His comments are refreshingly reasonable:

Autrey said in his ruling that the flashing of headlights was essentially a good thing, sending “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.”

Thank you. Because the point of speed traps and traffic light tickets is obviously to get people to drive more safely, right? Speed traps aren’t implemented merely to make revenue for the city, are they? Because if their sole purpose were just to make money for police departments, the police would probably be really annoyed if drivers were warning each other of the speed traps and voluntarily slowing down before they were caught speeding. Sarcasm.

This ruling also has some other implications. Flashing headlights is not the only way drivers warn one another of speed traps. There are apps for that now. For instance, Waze, allows drivers to post warnings if they see a police car on the side of the road. This warning, and the location and description of the police car, is updated in real time as members of the Waze community pass by. This is like the 21st century version of flashing your headlights.

When I was told about Waze, I wondered if the police warning feature would be challenged legally. It looks like this ruling sets a precedent to protect Waze and apps like it. Which is a good thing. I’m tired of the predatory police state, and these kinds of measures could effectively and practically rein in their capacity to do damage to the good taxpayers of this country.