Is Flashing Your Headlights (to Warn of a Speed Trap) Protected 1st Am. Speech? - Granite Grok

Is Flashing Your Headlights (to Warn of a Speed Trap) Protected 1st Am. Speech?

speed-trap police radar speeding law enforcement

We bumble our way through questions of free speech regularly. Call it a hobby. Maybe it’s two hobbies. Talking about it and exercising it, while the former is the latter. However that works here is a legal question for the ages. Is flashing your headlights to warn oncoming traffic of a speed trap protected by the First Amendment?

It is something we’ve all probably done, assuming all means drivers of vehicles on roads so policed. We’ve equally, I hope, benefited from such communication. Saved a few dollars here and there for more fruitful if not personal experiences than paying a traffic fine. 

Depending on the fine, that’s a lot of Twinkies.

But is it legal? 

I’ve never doubted it for a moment.

“Among free men, the deterrents ordinarily to be applied to prevent crime are education and punishment for violations of the law, not abridgment of the rights of free speech.”


“Even assuming, arguendo, that Plaintiff or another driver is communicating a message that one should slow down because a speed trap is ahead and discovery or apprehension is impending, that conduct is not illegal.”

As to the matter of the question, is it protected, the opinion quoted above and cited at the Volokh Conspiracy is the sum of legal opinion on the subject. The conclusion (Obriecht v. Splinter) is that “defendants have failed to meet their burden of showing that Obriecht has no plausible claim for relief under the First Amendment.”

While it may or may not be “speech” until some municipality makes it illegal and this law is challenged, we may never need to know.