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Warning drivers with lights should be legal

If motorists flash their headlights to warn of a hazard, is it illegal? What if that hazard is a speed trap?

Controversy has recently been raised in the Tampa Bay area concerning the legal use of light signals.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Land O’Lakes resident Erich Campbell was ticketed for alerting other motorists of a speed trap in December 2009. The judge in Campbell’s case, Judge Raul Palomino, dismissed the case despite laws against unlawful use of light signaling. The Florida Highway Patrol seemed to agree, ordering all police to stop issuing citations as of Aug. 29 to drivers using headlights as a signal to other drivers, according to the Times.

Since then, Campbell has filed a class-action lawsuit against the state concerning other motorists who have been similarly punished. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the suit declared, “There was no legitimate basis for pulling over Campbell’s vehicle and detaining him and his passengers when they had committed no cognizable offense.”

The action of alerting other motorists of speed traps encourages them to obey the law. Ticketing drivers for signaling other drivers to slow down is a bit excessive. Whenever citizens are discouraging law-breaking behavior without conflict, it can’t be described as bad behavior. In this case, the behavior is unlawful, according to Florida statutes.

Florida statutes prohibit use of flashing lights “except as a means of indicating a right or left turn, to change lanes, or to indicate that the vehicle is lawfully stopped or disabled upon the highway.”

The statutes specifically state that the use of lights “flashed as a courtesy or ‘do pass’ signal to operators of other vehicles approaching from the rear” is not allowed and is punishable by a moving violation.

The clear intent of the law is to prevent abuse. If someone indiscriminately flashed lights all the time, it would make the intent of a given signal unclear. Yet, incidental use of lights to alert drivers of hazards shouldn’t be illegal. Drivers use signals for informal communication to other drivers because they can’t communicate verbally. When there is unexpected debris in the road, drivers can and should warn others to prevent harm or adding more wreckage to the debris.

Warning other motorists of speed traps does have a downside, at least from the police perspective. If the police don’t catch any motorists speeding or breaking the law, they don’t receive any revenue from tickets. Nonetheless, encouraging unsafe driving practices to increase traffic citation revenue is unwise and unethical.

The laws concerning light signals need to be amended. There should be no legal basis for ticketing motorists for flashing their lights to tell drivers to slow down unless doing so imperils fellow motorists by causing traffic accidents.