How likely is it you'd be prosecuted for warning motorists of a speed trap?

Saw this article this morning, about a guy that was flashing his headlights to warn other motorists of a nearby speed trap:

Agree or disagree with the guy’s tactics or the outcome, I’m curious to know what the potential success rate for a prosecution/conviction if someone were to, say, discover speed traps, go one block away and wear a sandwich sign saying “THERE IS A POLICE SPEED TRAP AHEAD”? What would the legal arguments be for the prosecution and the defense?

Out in the mountains of PA where we used to go, one of the small towns had a speed trap. One of the residents got tired of getting speeding tickets (I guess you only had to be a mile or two over) and also thought it gave people a negative impression of the town.
At his business, right before the speed trap area, he erected a sign that said “Charlie Says - Speed Trap Ahead.” The sign was always visible, but when he noticed the trap was active, he would flip on the flashing lights that surrounded the sign.
This is totally anecdotal, but the sign was there for at least a decade.

My WAG would be that a prosecutor might try an “obstruction of justice” charge. I don’t know if it would really-and-truly-o succeed if you had a good defense lawyer though.

You have freedom of speech to comment on the operation of the government. The state could claim you were endangering the lives of the policemen, but most likely the First Amendment would trump that play.

How could they claim that? Surely if people are warned of a speed trap, they slow down and pay attention, and are less likely to injure policemen. Net result, slower, safer traffic, which is surely what is intended? Unless, of course, it’s all about revenue generation from speeding fines, but surely that can’t be the case, right? :dubious:

It’s funny how many times I’ve heard this question. From a prosecutorial point of view, I can’t even imagine what charge would be appropriate here. By warning people of a speed trap, you are effectively achieving the same end as the police operating the trap: getting people to slow down.

There are a group of indignant mouth-breathers in my jurisdiction who routinely stand on the boulevards by stationary and mobile radar ticketing sites with signs saying “radar trap ahead”, because they think they’re getting one over on The Man. The fact that slower, more attentive driving is the point seems rather lost on them.

That of course is the official reason. But hard to rake in the clams from drivers, esp. those juicy out-of-towners, if everyone is doing the limit.

Speed trap? There’s an app for that;

That’s a likely reason. In addition it may just cut into the ticket quotas some cops have to meet (even though the PDs deny there are such quotes despite handing out 90% of the speeding tickets on the last day of the month).


The way I had it explained to me by my California Highway patrol buddy is, finding violations is easy, if you are not coming in with 20 or so tickets at the end of the shift they start asking what tree you were napping under all day. Its not a quota, because it is very easy to get wrapped up in other duties. Think of it like punishing the lowest performing sales rep. regardless of his actual numbers. If the average cop is writing 20 tickets a day and you average 10…they question if you are really trying.


Could someone please explain the “endangering the lives of policemen” part? “Endangering the ticket quota” part perhaps…

Well, you’re exposing cops who are clearly in the middle of an important and highly-dangerous sting operation.

When was the last time a cop died as part of a speed trap operation? Has it ever happened?

There has to have been at least one cop struck while radaring, but only by someone that did not know a speed trap was there.

A simple Bing (Yeah, I use it) search turns up a few:

I don’t think it’s uncommon. I don’t know if letting drivers know there’s a trap up ahead could further endanger an officer though. I’d argue it’s quite the opposite. Almost like a playground zone sign or something warning you to watch out (in this case) for policemen.

The only argument I can think of - and it’s a doozy - might be that anybody looking to kill a policemen now knows there’s one ahead. However, if one were so inclined, there’s, you know, police stations clearly marked.

I don’t think we have a duty not to publicize police operations. Being a free country and all, I think we have a right to say “hey, there are some police ahead, slow down.”

Don’t know if this is true or not but I think I read it in the Reader’s Digest…

Apparently there was a cop doing a radar trap in an area that was notorious for speeders. After a while he didn’t catch anybody and wondered why, so he went up the street and found a little kid with a sign that said “SPEED TRAP AHEAD” and down the street was another little kid with a bucket full of money and a sign that said “TIPS”.

Here’s the deal: it varies by state.

Some states have ordinances regulating the use of high beams. In Alaska, for example, 13 AAC 04.020(e)(1) provides:

In other words, there is a blanket prohibition against high beams used within 500 feet of an on-oncoming vehicle. There is no case law in Alaska pitting this provision against the First Amendment, but the First Amendment is the likely loser of such a challenge. The restriction is content-neutral and aimed at public safety; its chilling effect upon free expression is slight.

In other states, such as New York, it’s a matter of caselaw that it’s allowable to warn drivers by flashing headlights of police operations. See, e.g., People v. Lauber, 617 N.Y.S.2d 419 (2nd Dept. 1994).