Flashing lights to warn others of speed traps may be free speech

In Elli v. City of Ellisville, No. 4:13-CV-00711 HEA (February 3, 2014), the United States District Court, Eastern Division issued a preliminary injunction against the City from enforcing an ordinance that generally prohibited flashing headlamps to communicate to other drivers that a speed trap is ahead. The court rejected the city’s argument that the flashing of lights was hindering prosecution and found that the plaintiff, who was represented by attorneys from the ACLU, was likely to prevail on free speech grounds. Specifically, the court found that “communicating a message that one should slow down because a speed trap is ahead and apprehension is impeding … is not illegal” and detaining and citing a person for such conduct has a chilling effect on that person’s freedom of speech. Ellisville has reported to the press that it will not appeal as the City changed its policy over a year ago. Cities that have similar ordinances, policies, or practices may want to review such in light of the possibility of similar challenges and this federal court’s willingness to hear such a suit.

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