- Can a driver get in trouble for flashing their lights to warn other drivers of police ahead?
- What about other kinds of warnings: could that be Obstruction of Justice?
I went to see the last Spring Training game of the year on Saturday, as the Sox took on the Twins. Before I left, my friend had posted on social media that there was a trooper camping out on I-75, watching for speeders not far from the ball park. Sure enough, I took it easy as I went to the game, and there he was, right were my friend said to be on the lookout. In a bit of Karma, since I wasn’t driving too fast, I pissed off a speeder, who proceeded to tailgate me, then pass aggressively on my right. Sure enough, he fell right into the speed trap.
And what about the driver who passes a cop on the road, and flashes his lights to warn oncoming traffic? I was asked that question this week by some astute high school students in whose class I had been invited to speak. I once saw a judge insinuate that such flashing may be obstruction of justice, so I needed to dig a little to find a definitive answer for Florida.
The law, it turns out is quite clear in Florida. Driver’s have a First Amendment right to warn other drivers to slow down. Ryan Kintner, of Lake Mary Florida, got a ticket for flashing his lights at drivers in 2011, and had the guts to fight it out in court. The judge ruled that Kintner’s actions to warn his neighbors of the hazard are Constitutionally protected. Drivers have a right to expression, and to warn their neighbors of hazards, even if those hazards are created by law enforcement. While this case was specifically dealing with a flashing lights civil infraction, the principle will certainly apply to a obstruction of justice charge as well. The First Amendment and other Constitutional protections trump statutory laws.
The legislature went a step further, and passed a law that went into affect on January 1, 2013, that clarified that the flashing of lights to warn other drivers is not a violation of the flashing lights statute, Fla. Stat. §316.23. That’s good public policy: if there is an accident around a curve, we don’t want to discourage drivers from warning oncoming traffic about the approaching hazard. Note, this is the law in Florida, and each state has its own traffic laws. Kintner sued law enforcement to stop writing such citations, but I suspect the statutory change made his lawsuit moot.
Additionally, warnings about speed traps on social media are clearly going to be protected by the First Amendment. Again, this is good policy. The purpose of speed limits and enforcing them is safety: getting people to slow down. And the best way to do that is to get the word out that there will be consequences for speeding. That’s why many agencies, including LCSO, routinely share their traffic enforcement plans. LCSO places warnings daily on the home page of their website, and shares them on Facebook, as well. Be safe driving on these streets today:
Daily Traffic Enforcement Update
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit is providing the information listed below in continuing efforts to increase traffic safety awareness and education, plus to emphasize the importance of obeying traffic laws to reduce traffic crashes, injuries and death on Lee County roads.
On Friday, April 4, 2014, the Traffic Unit will target at least one of the following three locations for enforcement:
1.Sanibel Boulevard, Fort Myers
2.Slater Road, North Fort Myers
3.State Road 82, Lehigh Acres
Read about Collier’s “Ghost Cruiser” here.