Headlight-Flashing Faces Test As Free Speech In Florida
Often times we get lost in thought while driving only to be jarred back into reality by a pair of blinking headlights. I don’t see anything wrong with it, in fact the opposite.
When Erich Campbell passed two Florida Highway Patrol cruisers parked in the median near Tampa International Airport in December 2009, he flashed his headlights to warn oncoming drivers of the radar patrol.
Then, to his surprise, one of the troopers pulled over his silver Toyota Tundra and ticketed him for improper flashing of high beams.
“Literally within one minute, they had me stopped on the side of the road,” recalled Campbell, 38, a former electrician and full-time student.
In August, the Land O’Lakes, Fla., resident filed a class-action lawsuit in Tallahassee against the highway patrol and other state traffic-enforcement agencies. He seeks an injunction barring law enforcement from issuing headlight-flash tickets, plus refunds and civil damages for previously cited motorists.
Campbell’s lawyer, J. Marc Jones, claims his client’s First Amendment right to free speech was violated. “The flashing of lights to communicate with another driver is clearly speech,” he said.
David Hudson, a scholar at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University who has studied the issue, said motorists have previously challenged headlight-flashing tickets in New Jersey, Ohio and Tennessee, but those were individual cases, rather than the statewide class-action lawsuit in Florida.