First Amendment Protects Florida Drivers Flashing Headlights to Warn of Speed Traps
Many drivers in Florida try to help their fellow motorists avoid police speed traps by flashing their headlights to signal to oncoming traffic to slow down. Often to their dismay, they are then themselves pulled over and cited by the police for flashing their headlights. That punishment for being a Good Samaritan is no longer legal in Florida, as it has been ruled to be a violation of First Amendment rights, and as of January 1, 2013, it will be written in the law books.
Florida has long been known to lawyers handling traffic tickets as a haven for cities setting up money-making police speed traps to fill their local coffers with fines paid by unsuspecting travelers. The American Automobile Association (AAA) has even gone so far as to erect billboards warning of speed traps in and around certain notorious towns.
Florida Statutes section 316.2397 has long made it a non-criminal traffic moving violation, prohibiting certain flashing lights on vehicles, including when a driver flashed their headlights to other vehicles.
In 2011, this Florida Statute was challenged by Ryan Kintner, a recipient of one of these nasty citations from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. Kintner ‘s attorney filed a civil rights lawsuit, arguing that Kintner had the civil right to express his First Amendment right to Free Speech by communicating to other drivers by flashing his lights. In May 2012, Circuit Judge Alan Dickey ruled in Kintner ‘s favor, agreeing with him, holding that people who flash their headlights to communicate are engaging in behavior protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Based on these rulings, the Florida Legislature amended the law. As of January 1, 2013, that same Florida Statutes section 316.2397 holds that it is no longer a violation of the law when a motorist intermittently flashes his or her vehicle’s headlamps at an oncoming vehicle notwithstanding the motorist’s intent for doing so.