Is it/should it be illegal to flash lights to warn other motorists?

of a police presence?

Inspired by this closed thread: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=545794

It seems to me from the video that the officer wasn’t worried about any type of safety issue from the OP flashing/whatever his lights. He didn’t like that he was telling other drivers that there were cops on the road. This seems like a first amendment no-no to me. Thoughts?

How was it a violation of the First Amendment, pray tell? :rolleyes:

By communicating to other motorists that there are police on the road, and that they should slow down to within the legal speed limit to avoid a speeding citation.

I don’t think it should be illegal to signal another driver a warning that there’s a cop on the side of the road, or whatever, for the same reason it shouldn’t be illegal if I mentioned it to you outside of a car (“Hey, just so you know, I saw a cop car behind that billboard down the road”).

Is it really illegal anywhere? As referenced, I’ve heard of cops manufacturing offenses because the warning pissed them off, but I don’t think the actual warning itself is illegal. What law would be broken?

I could see a law that banned intentionally flashing your high beams at night as it could blind or distract other drivers, but that would fall under the same exception to freedom of speech as yelling fire in a crowded theater.

Slightly off topic, but state troopers in New York used to flash spots on on coming cars on the freeway. This happened to me while driving back from NYC to Saratoga at 2:00am. Flashed the spot directly on me from the other side of the free way, then turned around and followed me with the spot in my mirrors for about half a mile, then pulled in front of me and pointed the spot in my face. I heard from others that this was not unusual. I can only assume they are looking for drunk drivers, but it seems that it is more likely to cause an accident since I driving blind for at least a full mile.

Jonathan

I think it should be illegal, " free speech " wankery be damned.

Lights and horns should ONLY IMO be used for neccessary/critical traffic communication. Telling some dumbass to slow down and avoid a ticket aint one of them IMO.

I think it should absolutely be legal. In fact, if it’s not explicitly against the law any action taken against it should be construed as harassment. If it IS against the law it’s for the sole purpose of fundraising, because if the goal of speeding tickets is to slow down traffic blinking lights as a warning to slow down accomplishes the same goal without enriching the revenooers.

We all know what it’s about. It’s about fundraising, making the budget. That’s wrong now, it’s always been wrong, and it will be wrong in the future. If I recall, there are some states that took action to eliminate the revenue-generating aspect of ticket writing by pooling all ticket money instead of keeping it within a locality. As soon as they did that the tickets written went way down, because there was no incentive to write them anymore.

I blink the lights and I will continue to blink the lights.

Speed traps are revenue-raising ploys and I don’t respect them. If the police or state troopers were actually concerned about keeping speeds down for safety, they’d be parked in plain sight, because NOTHING slows drivers down like a police car on the shoulder.

Why should it be ? Cops with radar guns are a mean to an end : enforcing speed limits (that is, in the best of cases. As **jayjay **says, sometimes it’s just a big ol’ scam). Motorists who are being warned of a radar ahead tend to slow down.

Either way, the end is achieved.

Here in Australia that is true.

*219 Lights not to be used to dazzle other road users

A driver must not use, or allow to be used, any light fitted to or in the driver’s vehicle to dazzle, or in a way that is likely to dazzle, another road user.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units. *

and

*224 Using horns and similar warning devices

A driver must not use, or allow to be used, a horn, or similar warning device, fitted to or in the driver’s vehicle unless:

(a) it is necessary to use the horn, or warning device, to warn other road users or animals of the approach or position of the vehicle, or 

(b) the horn, or warning device, is being used as part of an anti-theft device, or an alcohol interlock device, fitted to the vehicle. 

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units. *

Looking through some offences a while ago I found people who had been booked for sounding their horns in car parks - once at McDonalds.

You know, it’s funny you mention that. On the Interstate highways, I’ve never seen a cop trying to hide. They’re always sitting in a clear spot in the median and are visible a mile away from both directions.

The experience is mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi, but I’ve driven in 37 states in the past 10 years. IN LA and MS, there are plenty of little crossovers in the median that are mostly hidden by large stands of pine trees that they could use, but they never do. Always in a treeless part of a median, sometimes under an overpass, but still visible, sometimes with their headlights on.

They still manage to catch people flying by doing 90+ that just aren’t paying attention I guess.

Where I live they reconstructed a stretch of Interstate 81, and when they did they dug out 5 culverts that the police could back into and laid stone beds on the back sides of bridges so the police could hide behind them. The Pennsylvania State Police always hide.

They do that on I-83, too. In the northbound lanes, between the MD state line and York, PA, there are about five of those little hiding spots, perfectly angled for the cops to get out, but pretty much hidden from view until it’s too late. There’s only one that I used to see in the southbound lanes.

In Maryland they just sit in plain sight in the turn-around spots in the middle of the interstate.

Spped cameras are there to catch speeding motorists. The knowledge that they are there, or might be there, helps encourage people to slow down. People flashing their lights to warn of a speed camera makes people slow down. Not only legal, but doing the speed camera’s job for it, surely? Unless the speed cameras are really there for raising revenue, which some people believe - I don’t, but perhaps those cops in the link do.

It actually is, in Tennessee at least. If I recall correctly, a man was ticketed for flashing his headlights to warn an oncoming motorist. He took it to court, and the judge ruled that it was protected free speech.

Yep. And it’s not a new thing, either. They’ve been doing that kind of thing for as long as I’ve been driving.

Huh. That’s weird. NOT that I’m for speed traps so much, it just seems like a major stretch. Oh well.

don’t ask, I don’t read either restriction as applying to someone flashing their lights to signal another driver–for example, to let them know that their headlights aren’t on (or, yes, to warn “cop ahead”). No one is “dazzled.” Do you take it differently? Does “dazzle” have a specific meaning in the context of this law?

The horn law seems overbearing–can’t I toot the horn when I pull up to your door to pick you up, to let you know I’m there?–but at least that seems to have a non-arbitrary rationale, one not intended as an end-around to restrict communication. The “hey, keep the noise down!” rationale, that is.

A speed trap does not serve the same function as someone flashing his lights. A flash of the lights causes other drives to slow down only until they see the speed trap. The presence of speed traps at unknown locations causes drivers to approximate the speed limit at all times.

Are you also OK with restaurants being warned when the health inspector is coming so they can clean up for a few weeks instead of being clean all the time?

I got pulled over one time by a city cop (in Texas) for flashing my lights within the city. When the cop asked me why I’d flashed them, I told him because the oncoming car I’d flashed them at was brown, it was dusk, he didn’t have his headlights on, and he could barely be seen. It was the truth (I hadn’t even seen the cop till I noticed him in my mirror), and I didn’t get a ticket.

In general, yes, speed traps are for revenue generation and I should be free to flash my lights.