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Speed traps: Helping your fellow motorist

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It’s an intriguing legal question: Can a municipality fine drivers for flashing their headlights to warn speeders to slow down when approaching a police trap? Such warnings can, after all, be construed as a way to support the law by telling others to slow down, or thwart it by blocking enforcement. Either way, having motorists help each other avoid tickets is a rare form of camaraderie among strangers, a show of civic concern and engagement, and should be encouraged, not criminalized.

Last week, a federal judge in Missouri issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the town of Ellisville from fining drivers up to $1,000 for flashing their lights. The ruling was in response to a suit brought by Michael Elli, who received a flashing citation in 2012, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The town claimed flashing one’s lights could interfere with police investigations, but Judge Henry Autrey said the practice helps “to bring one’s driving in conformity with the law — whether it be by slowing down, turning on one’s own headlamps at dusk or in the rain, or proceeding with caution.”

Autrey’s decision would be justified even in instances when drivers are just helping each other avoid tickets: It’s a form of free speech and fellowship at the same time.

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