Warning drivers of speed traps is free speech

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Headlight flashing is not a crime, a Florida judge ruled. Image: CoCreatr/Flickr/CC BY-SA

A Florida judge ruled Tuesday that the U.S. Constitution protects motorists flashing their headlights to warn approaching vehicles of a speed trap as free speech.

Unsolicited early warning

When Ryan Kintner, 25, from Lake Mary, Fla., saw a sheriff’s deputy parked with radar gun in hand last August, he did what any member of the brotherhood of motorists would do; he drove upstream of the deputy, parked and began flashing his lights to let his approaching brothers and sisters know what to expect.

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However, an officer in an unmarked car later stopped Kintner and cited him for his unsolicited early warning system. The exact charge was “improper flashing of lights,” and the fine was $166.

Contesting the ticket

As you might expect, however, Kintner was not one to back down from authority figures. He contested the citation and took it to court last October. There, Circuit Judge Alan Dickey ruled that he had not violated the state law, which prohibits motorists from flashing after-market emergency lights. It is not clear from reports if Kintner’s lights were after-market or not.

According to the Crime Report, Dickey said:

“If the goal of the traffic law is promote safety and not to raise revenue, then why wouldn’t we want everyone who sees a law enforcement officer with a radar gun in his hand, blinking his lights to slow down all those other cars?”

A matter of free speech

However, seeing the issue as a constitutional one, an unsatisfied Kintner filed a lawsuit against the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

Kintner told the Orlando Sentinel in August:

“I have nothing against officers, but when you cross a line and get into free speech, I feel it’s gone too far.”

Kintner’s lawyer, Attorney J. Marcus Jones, argued that the First Amendment protects Kinter. Jones said:

“You’re completely in your rights to flash your headlights. Flashing your headlights is expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. By issuing a citation, monetary fine for that conduct you’ve breached the First Amendment rights.”

The judge in the case agreed that the citation was, indeed, a violation of Kintner’s free speech.

Ramping up the ‘fun’

Jones is not stopping there. He is enjoying himself too much. He filed another suit in Tallahasee on Kintner’s behalf against the entire Florida Highway Patrol. Until the resolution of that suit, Sheriff’s Deputies in Florida are not allowed to cite any motorist for light-flashing.

Jones was quoted as saying Tuesday:

“This stuff is fun.”


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