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Florida Judge Says Flashing Headlights Is Free Speech: Discuss

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Police car with headlights on

Police car with headlights on

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When someone flashes his headlights at you, it usually means one of two things: (a) you forgot to turn on your own headlights, or (b) there's a speed trap around the next curve.

There's no arguing that the first of those warnings is important for safety reasons. Driving at dusk without headlights and taillights illuminated makes cars harder to see and easier to hit -- or easier for pedestrians to step in front of.

But what about the second? Is it acceptable to tattle on a policeman lying in wait for speeders and their delicious revenue? Law enforcement officials in Seminole County, Florida don't think so, but according to the Orlando Sentinel, a judge begs to differ.

How it all went down

On August 10 of last year, Lake Mary resident Ryan Kintner saw a sheriff's deputy park near his home and whip out a radar gun, presumably hoping to catch speeders and generate fines for the county coffers. Kintner wanted to alert passersby to the situation, so he hopped in his car, drove a few blocks away, and began flashing his lights at oncoming traffic in hopes of getting drivers to slow down.

The deputy saw what Kintner was up to and issued two tickets: one for running a stop sign, and another for flashing his headlights. The officer's rationale for ticket #2 was based on Florida's state law that prohibits motorists from flashing after-market emergency lights, even though it's not clear that the lights Kintner used were after-market. (Note: laws like this may help explain why Florida made TCC's "Worst States for Driving" list.)

Ultimately, Kintner sued, arguing that the Florida law was misapplied in his case and that the Sheriff's Office was violating his civil rights.

Judge Alan Dickey agreed with the plaintiff, saying that Florida's law didn't apply to people who, like Kintner, used their headlights to communicate. Earlier this week, Dickey amended and broadened that ruling, stating that using headlights to communicate is free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution. 

Kintner has also filed suit against Florida Highway Patrol and hopes for a similar ruling in that case. In the meantime, both the Seminole County Sheriff's Department and the Florida Highway Patrol have stopped writing tickets for headlight-flashing. 

Our take

It would be easy to side with Judge Dickey in this case. Kintner wasn't speeding himself, he was just alerting others to a deputy's presence down the road. If Kintner were interfering with a sting operation aimed at a particular criminal, that would be a different story, but clearly, the deputy didn't have specific lawbreakers in mind. He or she was just hoping to pick off random speeders.

On the other hand, you could argue that Kintner was aiding and abetting lawbreakers -- in much the same way that software developers were accused of helping drunk drivers by creating apps to spot sobriety checkpoints. Drunk driving and speeding are both dangerous: how do you draw a line between the two types of offenders, other than to say that speeding is somehow less dangerous than drunk driving? 

Feel free to debate these and other fine points of law in the comments below. And be sure to check out Kurt's take on the story over at MotorAuthority.com.

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Comments (19)
  1. I was told it was against the the law here to flash your lights at an on coming car that may be blinding you with high beams on. Seems dangerous to be blinded by a forgetful driver. If this is a real law in Arizona, it should be repelled.
     
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  2. Huh? It's not illegal to drive with your high beams on, but you can't flash your own high beams to alert the other driver. Sounds like an urban legend to me.
     
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  3. One can also argue that Kintner's actions induced drivers to slow down and obey the law (and avoid the speed trap). But, of course, the greedy county or state government wouldn't be able to legitimately collect any $$$ if people slowed down. Now would they? Isn't that what's it's about??
     
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  4. I agree with the judge. Anytime you can help another motorist beat a sitting in wait flatfoot who has set up a speedtrap is a good thing. That is exactly what this driver did and I hope he continues to do so as well as others begin this practice. Anything that we the driving public can do to beat the cops at their money generating speed trap games is fair and legal in my opinion.
     
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  5. "how do you draw a line between the two types of offenders"?

    Easy. Someone flashing his or her headlights forces people to slow down. It doesn't "aid or abet lawbreakers", and in fact accomplishes the exact same behavior modification that the police should be trying to incentivize - slowing down. Showing people with sobriety checkpoints provides an entirely different incentive. It gets people who drink and drive to choose a different route. It doesn't get them to not drive. Completely different issue.
     
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  6. I am night-blind. I generally avoid driving at night, but if I am, getting brights flashed at me is extremely dangerous.
    Last year, while driving in San Diego, I had an idiot flash his brights at me out of a turn to alert me to the officer ahead. He did this while making a left turn, shining straight into my eyes.
    Well, speeding wasn't a problem, but the officer certainly pulled me over when I drove off the side of the road! After putting me threw a full sobriety check, records check, and search of my car (going off the road is probable cause for drug and alcohol DUI), and having to complete explain my medical background and what happened, the officer let me go.
    And now some idiot purposely flash his brights in my eyes in free speech?!
     
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  7. What if you are warning the vehicle to just slow down without knowing that there was a cop hiding for speeders? It is actually better to warn speeding motorists no matter what the reason was. Blinking ones light could save accident that could cost lives. It will be hard to prove to the judge you saw the hiding cop. Chill out!!!!
     
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  8. what the heck are you driving at night for, if you are night blind? I think you are full of it!
     
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  9. Then you'll be blinded when an oncoming vehicle crests a rise, causing his low beams to point right in your eyes. Perhaps you should not drive at night. If you were completely blind, or had such bad vision that it could not be corrected, would you still insist on driving?
    Just because we have rights does not mean that their exercise cannot be reasonably regulated in the interests of safety. Both the individual and the society at large are possessed of rights, sometimes conflicting. A balance has to be attained.
     
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  10. I do it all of the time... f the cops.. wimps...
     
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  11. If the cops were worried about "safety" they should have the patrol car out in plain site. I'm with Kintner on this one.
     
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  12. When the cops can stop and ticket only one out of 10,000 of the speeders, tailgaters, weavers, lane-switchers, etc., whizzing past at 80-100 mph in bumper-to-bumper traffic, what do you think they will emphasize?
    I have heard that some jurisdictions are requiring all traffic cited drivers to appear in court. That will clog the system to the point that traffic law enforcement will be a total farce.
    A public defender advised a cited motorist to opt for a jury trial as it will be months or years before the case comes to trial. Most drivers will not do this as they "just want to get it over with." Go ahead and pay the $200, $400, $1000 fine or whatever, and enjoy the points on your license and the increase in your insurance premium.
     
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  13. Think this business of 'freedom of speech/expression' is getting way out of hand. Florida just passed a law stating you could turn your automobile radio/noise maker way up and nothing could be done about it. It is 'freedom of expression'. What about the poor people who have to listen to all that racket - isn't that an invasion of their privacy to peace and quiet. Not only that but all that noise is a distraction, hard on your hearing, affects the rhythm of the heartbeat. What happened to a littlecourtesy and common sense!!!
     
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  14. "invasion of their privacy to peace and quiet" in public.
     
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  15. If the guy sat at the corner with a sign that read, "Cop ahead, slow down," there would be no issue. Under our Constitution, we all have the right to freedom of speech. Using your headlights is no different than holding up a sign.
     
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  16. i personally feel that people should obey the law and that they should not be alerted of a cop ahead and if they were speeding should be ticketed. if you obey the law theres nothing to ever worry about! there is no reason ever for speeding, the limits are there for a reason, obey them! if its something life and death put ur hazards on and notify emergency personnel, other than that quit speeding and endangering other ppls lives
     
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  17. In my 4+ decades of driving I have never flashed my headlights to alert anyone to a speed detection. Headlight flashing is for: 1) the oncoming car's headlights are on high beam, or 2) the oncoming car's headlights are off at dusk or darker, or 3) a crash or other hazard is behind me back up the road, or 4) to alert a driver ahead of you that you are overtaking (passing) him.
    Turning the brights on and leaving them on to "punish" a driver whose lights are on bright is foolish. If you can't see due to his blinding bright lights, don't you want him to be able to see you?
     
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  18. The government loves to misapply the law because they believe people are too stupid to look up what it actually says. There was a rash of people getting pulled over in Illinois for under-body neon lights. I did some research and discovered more deceit by the State when they allege many of these charges. Obstructed vision, failure to reduce speed, and traveling too fast for conditions are pretty common fleecing charges, but I thought the neon lights was particularly interesting because it traps a lot of younger people who have been trained to not question authority.

    http://markmccoy.com/an-analysis-of-the-so-called-law-625-ilcs-512-212c-which-is-claimed-to-prohibit-under-body-neon-lights-in-illinois/
     
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  19. LED headlights are too dazzling.
     
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