No good deed goes unpunished, as they say. A man who tried to warn others of a speed trap by flashing his vehicle's headlights at motorists was ticketed by police. But a Florida judge ruled this week that flashing headlights is free speech protected by the First Amendment, according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel.
Ryan Kintner was ticketed last year for warning motorists of a speed trap waiting for them down the road. The Lake Mary, Fla., resident was at home when he noticed a police officer with a radar gun near his house, and decided to help out unsuspecting motorists by parking farther up the street from the officer and flashing his lights at oncoming traffic to warn drivers. The police officer instead ticketed Kintner, citing a law that prohibits the flashing of aftermarket emergency lights.
However, Kintner fought the ticket, and brought a lawsuit against the Seminole County Sheriff's office to stop them from using this law to "silence" motorists. He argued that the officers are misapplying that law, which is intended to prevent motorists from installing aftermarket emergency lights and impersonating emergency vehicles.
A judge sort of agreed with him last year and granted a partial ruling in Kintner's favor stating that Florida law does not prohibit motorists from using their lights from communicating with other motorists, reported an earlier Orlando Sentinel article.
In fact, it's common motoring practice to use high beams to inform other motorists that they've forgotten to turn on their headlights or that a traffic light has changed. And everyone has seen movies where drivers camped out in cars use their headlights to let their partners know the coast is clear, right?
This latest decision that signaling with headlights is Constitutionally protected free speech should protect movie plots and road Samaritans going forward. It should also put an end to Florida police writing tickets based on the emergency-vehicle lights law. Police hiding in speed traps will either need to get stealthier or find another way to avoid being outed.
A broader suit filed by Kintner's attorney against the Florida Highway Patrol on behalf of another driver ticketed in a similar situation is still pending.
(Via Orlando Sentinel)