Flashing your headlights: a first amendment right? (Part 2)September 24th, 2011 by josh farley
Blogger’s Note: When a Florida man flashed his headlights to warn oncoming motorists of an upcoming speed trap, he was pulled over and ticketed. He’s taken the fight to court, where he’s filed a class-action lawsuit alleging his free speech rights were violated.
I’ve sought the perspective of two locals — Bremerton defense attorney Stan Glisson and Port Orchard top cop Al Townsend — to give us their take on this unusual but intriguing case. Here is Townsend’s commentary. Glisson’s essay appeared Friday. Be sure to read up on the case first.
JF: “A Florida man is suing for violation of his first amendment rights because he passed a speed trap and then flashed his headlights — and got ticketed for it. In Washington, would this type of thing be grounds for a ticket? Why or why not?”
AT: “It would NOT … The legal answer is state law forbids people from shining their high beam lights at other drivers in the range of 300 to 500 feet. So it would be uncommon in my mind for someone driving around after dark to get stopped if they are driving with their high beams on because they could be impacting the vision of oncoming cars.
Now, I suppose technically, if you are flashing your high beams at another car then you are driving with your high beams on and could be subject to that law. But … we would not stop a car for doing that as it relates to notifying other drivers of a radar zone or even when other drivers try to get the attention of a driver who is cruising down the road with his high beams on (to get his attention to shut them off).
In fact … if more people would do that when they see cops running radar, more people would slow down and accomplish our goal.
If one of my cops did the Florida thing and stopped a car for flashing his headlights at another car that was warning him of a radar set, he’d be on the carpet in my office … I can guarantee you it would only happen once.”
Al Townsend is police chief in the city of Port Orchard. Aside from his administrative duties, he is known as one of the few top cops who regularly patrols the streets with the line officers.