Florida Driver Sues After Being Ticketed For Flashing Lights To Warn Other Drivers Of Speed Trap

The Florida Highway Patrol is the defendant in an interesting class action by Eric Campbell, who was ticketed for warning other drivers of a speed trap. Drivers will sometimes flash their lights to warn approaching cars in the opposite lane of the speed trap. However, the Florida Highway Patrol insists that that is illegal and gave Campbell a ticket for improper use of high beams.

The ticket was issued under “Florida Statue 316.2397.” Presumably, the officer was thinking of subsection 7:

(7) Flashing lights are prohibited on vehicles 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 or except that the lamps authorized in subsections (1), (2), (3), (4), and (9) and s. 316.235(5) are permitted to flash.

Notably, flashing lights does not necessary cover putting on your highbeams as a warning. Indeed, flashing lights could refer to the automatic flashers such as the emergency lights as opposed to the headlights.

One of the more interesting things for American drivers in France is the law that the police have to warn drivers of speed traps. Before any speed camera, there are signs warning you that you are approaching one. The result is that all of the cars slow down but few people get tickets. You got to love France.

Source: WTSP

Jonathan Turley

23 thoughts on “Florida Driver Sues After Being Ticketed For Flashing Lights To Warn Other Drivers Of Speed Trap”

  1. I received a $100. dollar ticket for flashing my high beams to warn of a speed trap. It was daylight. I’m a Florida driver. How can I get in on the class action suit? At least get my $100 bucks back!! Tom

  2. Flashing lights (unrelated to the blinking lights for turning) is often used and very useful as a friendly warning system amongst drivers. I’ve seen it used to warn people to slow down when nearing a traffic jam, inviting a tailing car to pass if the front car has better visibility, warning of an obstacle after a sharp turn, and others. I don’t think we want to ban that.

  3. I recall reading an account of an incident three or four years ago. Seems this fellow stood on the side of the road, on private property, a half mile or so from a police radar speed trap. He held up a sign saying, “Speed Trap Ahead.” He was arrested for interfering with an officer.

    I never found out what happened when he went to court. One would hope it was dismissed, but considering the fact the speed trap was about fund raising and not safety, I doubt it.

  4. The entire statue which comprises 316.2397 deals with equipment – not actions of the driver. It addresses everything from strobe lights, to red and blues allowed on police cars. Section 7, which identifies the only flashing lights permissible on a car as turn signals and hazard lights also describes types of lights – not actions. Therefore, to claim a headlight is a flashing light is an absurd manipulation of the statute. In fact, headlamps cannot flash unless the driver is causing them to flash – but even that, it does not make them flashing (adjective) lights (noun).

    Consider also that 316.084(2), a statute which addresses passing on a two-lane road, specifically requires the operator to flash headlamps when overtaking at night. Again, this IS an action, where flashing is a verb. So to say that the act of flashing is OK for one type of communication (intent to pass), but it’s not when the content of the communication upsets government officials – well, you can see where that leads…

  5. And police have been arresting people who take pictures and videos of them beating the crap out of people. It’s almost like the police think they are above the law….

  6. The use of warning signs isn’t unique to France. The state of Virginia requires localities using traffic light cameras to post signs within 500 feet of monitored intersections. See Virginia State Code § 15.2-968.1

  7. Odd, I grew up in Florida and IIRC my driver’s ed class explicitly covered flashing our lights as a way to warn other drivers of road hazards. So if we now see, e.g., a dead deer on a dark road we’re supposed to just trust that the other driver can stop in time?

    As for the warnings in France we have the same thing in Colorado on photo radar. Too many abuses by the police.

    In the broader picture I’m firmly in the camp that it’s ‘fair’ for the cops to be in a visible location and let people go who are paying enough attention to their environment to slow down. (Exceptions for the case of drivers who are going way over the speed limit.) These are not the people you need to worry about. The people who are totally zoned out or texting or whatever… they’re the dangerous ones.

    N.B., “visible location” includes a cop sitting on the top of an on-ramp. An alert driver will glance back and make sure there’s not an emergency vehicle getting onto the road. Most people don’t.

    But the cops who hide, e.g., just over hills, are hazardous in and of themselves as people slam on their brakes out of sight of approaching traffic. I’ve nearly been in a few accidents from this practice and I was going the speed limit. But all it takes is one fool who slams from 75 to 40 in a 65 mph zone….

  8. I agree on the case law/free speech issue. I recall a case where the driver flashing lights as a warning was deemed by the Courts to be Free Speech.

    Somehow I’m not surprised this happened in Florida.

  9. @bdaman

    The statute address the flashing of any lights. It does not provide an exception for low beams. If you can find a statute that specifically addresses the flashing of high beams, I’d like to see it. (If such a statute did exist, I think the trooper would have used it instead of the statute he chose.)

    The troopers could issue a ticket to truck drivers who flash their lights to indicate clearance after passing. They don’t because they understand that it serves a more reasonable purpose.

    In this case, Campbell should have limited his response to that of his intent to notify oncoming vehicles of the presence of a potential safety hazard.

    In the past, didn’t troopers issue a ticket for interfering with a police officer when people were caught flashing their lights in order to warn of a speed trap? Was there some holding that persuaded them to look for a different statute?

  10. If I recall correctly, there was a case like this that was won on a free speech basis. I think it was from Ohio, and I think it was appealed to the SCOTUS, and was successful.

  11. It’s against Florida law to flash your bright high beams. If he turned his low beams on and off he has a case. Otherwise he looses.
    Good luck on proving you used your low beams.

    P.S. This is why you see long haul drivers turning the lights off then back on to signal it’s safe for a lane change vs flicking the bright lights.

  12. Thanks for this story… and the WTSP article is a good adjunct…


    “Campbell says the FHP trooper wrote him a ticket for improper flashing of high beams. Campbell says the trooper told him what he had done was illegal.

    But later Campbell learned that is not the case. He filed a class action suit which says “Florida Statue 316.2397” — under which Campbell was cited — “does not prohibit the flashing of headlights as a means of communications, nor does it in any way reference flashing headlights or the use of high beams.”” (end excerpt)

    If Campbell is successful, his traffic stop could prove to be an expensive one for the state of Florida:

    “Since 2005, FHP records show more than 10,429 drivers have been cited under the statute.

    If each person illegally cited was awarded $15,000 that would be $156,435,000 in damages if the suit is successful. Then you would throw in at least another $1,042,900 in ticket refunds, all because it appears troopers don’t like motorists warning others about speed traps.” (also from the article)

  13. There are two reasons for speed traps, highway safety and city coffers. Guess which one calls for making headlight flashing to warn other motorists illegal?

  14. Just another reason to stay out of Florida. This ticket is an abuse of the police power and I would hope that the local prosecutor will dismiss it.

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