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Flashing Headlights Is Protected Speech

GOTTA CELEBRATE THE SMALL WINS …  A U.S. District Court judge in St. Louis has ruled (correctly) that motorists who alert their fellow drivers to police speed traps via flashing headlights are engaging in constitutionally protected “speech.” Judge Henry E. Autrey issued the ruling in the case of Missouri native Michael…

GOTTA CELEBRATE THE SMALL WINS … 

A U.S. District Court judge in St. Louis has ruled (correctly) that motorists who alert their fellow drivers to police speed traps via flashing headlights are engaging in constitutionally protected “speech.”

Judge Henry E. Autrey issued the ruling in the case of Missouri native Michael Elli, who was accused by his local law enforcement of “flashing lights on certain vehicles … warning of RADAR ahead.”

The charge against Elli was dropped, but that didn’t stop the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from suing on the grounds that Elli’s arrest violated his First Amendment rights.

Which it clearly did …

The argument employed by the government was that flashing headlights could potentially interfere in a police investigation (i.e. enabling a suspect to evade capture).

Autrey rejected that claim. Not only that, he added that motorists flashing their 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.”

We concur …

Not only is a motorist flashing his or her headlights a First Amendment right, it could potentially prevent accidents – a fringe benefit of protecting individual liberty.

Obviously this isn’t a landmark victory for freedom, but given the wholesale abandonment of liberty on so many other fronts in this country – it’s a victory worth celebrating.

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24 comments

tomstickler February 6, 2014 at 10:45 am

Speaking of headlights, how about a federal mandate required on all vehicles sold in the US, that when windshield wipers are turned on for anything more than a quick squirt and wipe, that a relay turns on the headlights (and tail lights) as is required by the motor vehicle code of nearly every state?

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Derp February 6, 2014 at 10:56 am

I know it’s incredibly hard to do, but the lights are usually on the other side of the steering wheel. When you put your wipers on, right after or before, use your other hand to turn on the head lights. With practice you may finally get this down or you could call a cab when it rains.

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euwe max February 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

You sure expect a lot out of South Carolina drivers. I would rather not count on their judgement to turn headlights on by themselves. Never wager with a Sicilian when *death* is on the line!

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I'm an economic idiot February 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Why are you depriving an entire growth industry in gov’t mandated electronics and it’s various associated lobbying groups when we need the jobs so badly?

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demarke February 6, 2014 at 1:29 pm

It’s a good idea for a piece of optional equipment, but I don’t agree with the government mandate.

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jimlewisowb February 6, 2014 at 11:00 am

What is the status of “da Bird”?

Not that it is going to take place any time soon but just in case I end up in close company with Mayor T Bone and he asks me “how’re you doing” and I give him da Bird am I protected by the First Amendment

In the course of a normal week I figure that I release my Bird 10 to 12 times mostly to fucking ding bat shit crazy drivers.

Last week on the way to BOB’s I did exchange sign language with a member of local law enforcement. He did not look offended nor did he make any attempt to pursue. Perhaps the fact that he was talking on his cell phone and just about turned me into road kill had a something to do with it.

Just wondering

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Birdy February 6, 2014 at 11:09 am

I bet you’re a terror at the food court on the weekends.

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jimlewisowb February 6, 2014 at 11:13 am

Don’t eat at any food courts.

Have you ever seen any stray cats around a mall?

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Yuk, Yuk, Yuk February 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm

” I did exchange sign language with a member of local law enforcement. He did not look offended”

He probably thought you were telling him he’s “#1”.

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Mike at the Beach February 6, 2014 at 6:47 pm

The case law law there has essentially been settled for years (and some Circuits, like the Ninth and Second, have pretty recently specifically reaffirmed that “the bird” is profane, legal speech. So flipping off a cop is quite legal (usually), but so is sticking your finger up your ass. I don’t do either because; A) I try to keep street cops out of my business to the extent that I can when I’m out and about, and; B) I think sticking a finger up my ass would be muy incómodo… ;-)

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anon. February 6, 2014 at 11:02 am

WOW! The courts got one right!

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Yelsewh February 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm

They get things right more often than not.

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fatalbert2013 February 8, 2014 at 3:14 pm

What have you been smoking?

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Yelsewh February 10, 2014 at 8:12 am

Reality

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euwe max February 6, 2014 at 11:08 am

Cops have been handing out tickets for that here in Texas as long as I can remember.

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Dim stars February 6, 2014 at 11:18 am

You also elected that Cuban/Canadian Ted Cruz to the senate. Suckers.

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euwe max February 6, 2014 at 11:37 am

Ron Paul once, too. What do you expect from the people that brought you George Bush?

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Jackie Chiles February 6, 2014 at 12:12 pm

And from the people that brought us euwe max?

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euwe max February 6, 2014 at 12:34 pm

I’m a race traitor from New Mexico.

CorruptionInColumbia February 6, 2014 at 11:43 am

Glad they made the right decision, here! A friend who I like and have a lot of respect for used to run a lot of radar as a cop. He would get really bent out of shape when motorists would flash their lights to warn each-other of radar traps. This was one of the few things I ever disagreed with the guy about. Like most radar cops, he took that stuff seriously.

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Jay Ellington February 7, 2014 at 9:00 am

They’ll just have to find more crafty ways of extorting money from citizens. My uncle wrote so many speeding tickets back home in NC that he was creating a bottleneck in traffic court. They stuck him in a cushman marking tires and writing parking violations, one rung on the humiliation ladder above foot patrol at the local mall.

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Smirks February 6, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Is mooning the cops from the passenger side window also free speech? *reaches for belt buckle*

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Married Pervert February 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Now I can tell my wife that lifting her shirt for me is protected speech.

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ThreePalms February 6, 2014 at 3:01 pm

There was a case (in South Carolina, I believe) many years ago in which the court specifically ruled that a driver could not be ticketd for flashing his lights to warn other drivers of a speed trap. I do not recall that the ruling was based on “Free Speech” or somehting more simple like it isn’t illegal to flash headlights or establishing the intent of the flashing.

Regardless, I delighted that this court has added to the precedent.

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