Is Flashing Your Headlights Free Speech?
Missouri man and ACLU go to court
When Michael Elli of Missouri flashed his headlights to warn other drivers of an upcoming speed trap in Ellisville Mo. he didn't think he was doing anything illegal.
After he received a ticket for obstruction of justice, which carried a $1,000 fine, he fought back, saying the warning was protected free speech. Eventually prosecutors in Missouri dropped the charges, but now Elli and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a class action lawsuit against the city for issuing such tickets in the first place.
"Those who use their First Amendment rights to warn others to drive cautiously should not be punished for their message," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU-EM. "After all, the purpose of traffic laws is to promote safety, not generate revenue."
Is flashing your headlights protected free speech? It depends on where in the U.S. you are. Florida, Utah and Tennessee, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have all deemed that warning other drivers with a flicker of your high beams is protected by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Alaska and Arizona have laws strictly forbid headlight flashing in any situation.
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