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Is It Legal To Flash Headlights To Warn Drivers Of Speed Traps?

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- If you're like many, you've probably been speeding down the interstate, and suddenly, a Good Samaritan flicks his lights at you.

"I've done it so that others know that there's a speed trap ahead," admits Jamie Kleemook of Robinson.

It's a warning of that radar gun ahead, and most appreciate the notice.

"I like when people do it because my sister speeds. I warn her. I tell her all the time, slow down, so I'm happy when somebody else is flashing their lights at her," says Tasha Eldridge of East Liberty.

But is it legal to warn others of speed traps?

"It's probably illegal, more than likely," notes Colin Cleer of Robinson.

Well, not exactly.

An Oregon court just overturned a ticket issued by state troopers to a man who flashed his high beams. The judge said the driver had a First Amendment free speech right to warn others of speed traps.

"Many forms of conduct can be speech," says attorney Melvin Vatz. "Not just what we say, but the things that we do constitute speech."

Vatz, who represents clients in motor vehicle cases, says Pennsylvania courts have not yet adopted this free speech argument.

But in 1999 the state Supreme Court held that a Cumberland County man did not violate the state vehicle code when he flashed his high beams to warn of a speed trap.

"Justice Flaherty clearly found that there was nothing wrong in doing that. It wasn't a violation of the traffic law."

The court held that since you don't need to have lights on during the day, flicking on lights doesn't distract drivers on the road.

So what about flashing high beams at night?

State law says you cannot do that within 500 feet of another vehicle, which means night-time warnings risk a citation.

"If you do that in the day, you've got a real strong argument," notes Vatz. "If you do it at night, just be careful in how you do it."

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