Warning Motorists of Speed Traps. Is That Unlawful?

Joe Speeder thinks he’s a wonderful guy. He also believes he’s a compassionate soul. Therefore, when he sees a police speed trap, he want’s everyone to be warned. Knowing that he may spare someone a ticket by warning them to slow down makes him all tingly inside. The problem with his behavior, according to law enforcement, is that what he’s doing is allegedly illegal. On one occasion, they write him a citation for his actions. He’s outraged. He doesn’t believe that warning drivers to slow down is illegal conduct. He vows to fight. Will Joe Speeder prevail?

The hypothetical involving Joe Speeder is based upon an actual case. On November 22, 2012, Michael Elli was given a citation for doing exactly what Joe Speeder did. Michael, like Joe, flashed his lights to warn his fellow drivers of a speed trap. The citation subjected Michael to a $1,000 fine. The American Civil Liberties Union jumped on board to assist Michael challenge what they also deemed was an unlawful citation. The matter was challenged in federal court.

A federal judge in St. Louis ruled recently in Michael’s favor. Michael and the ACLU argued successfully that a driver who flashes their lights to warn other drivers of an impending speed trap is simply exercising their constitutional rights. The act of flashing headlights for this purpose was deemed protected free speech.

Kudos to Judge Henry Autrey who correctly ruled that a driver does have the constitutional right to flash their lights under the First Amendment. Additionally, Judge Autrey issued an injunction ordering the Ellisville Police Department to stop enforcing the policy.

I’m thrilled at this ruling. I was troubled by the issuance of these types of citations. As I argued on Fox News recently, before the ruling, I believe that the actions of warning motorists of a speed trap is constitutionally protected speech. Let’s say you’re at the local diner and you say to your friend, “Be careful driving home. I hear there’s a speed trap on Main Street.” It would be ludicrous to be ticketed for that. The actions of Michael and Joe are no different. Fortunately, the court agreed.

This ruling will serve as benchmark for other similar cases around the country. Hopefully, word will spread quickly to law enforcement agencies who have a policy of issuing citations for this constitutionally protected conduct.