Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Help Me Howard: Flashing Headlights
What do you think of police speed traps? Have you ever been upset and warned other drivers? You know, that irritates cops, so much that they write tickets for doing it. But is it legal? Great question for Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Let me ask you a question. You pass officers running a speed trap. Then, you see a car heading towards them. Would you flash your lights to warn them? OK. Now, let's show you what can happen.
Dean Winton: "We were shocked. Shocked."
Dean's shock came one night while he was taking his family to Disney World.
Dean Winton: "We got back on the Turnpike. It was dark, so I put my brights on a couple of times."
Dean says, he flashed his lights to light the road. A few seconds later, he got flashed.
Dean Winton: "I see flashing blue lights, two police cars with their sirens on, pulling me over."
Dean pulled over.
Dean Winton: "When I rolled the window down, the officer came up to the car and told me I was being ticketed for flashing my brights, exposing their speed trap."
Dean says he had no idea he had flashed his lights near a police speed trap.
Dean Winton: "I did not see any police car there. The first time I saw a police car was flashing blue lights in my rearview mirror. I didn't know about the speed trap."
The officer didn't believe him and slapped him with a ticket for $116 dollars that reads:
Dean Winton: "Flashing bright head lights, appearing to warning oncoming traffic of law enforcement officers."
Before the officer left, Dean asked one more question: is it illegal to flash your lights just to warn drivers of a speed trap, or is it always illegal to flash your lights at oncoming drivers?
Dean Winton: "I said to him, 'Does that mean if someone is coming the other way and they have no headlights on, it's illegal to flash them my headlamps?' And he said, 'Well, according to the law that I'm citing you for, yes, it would be.'"
Dean couldn't believe that could be true.
Dean Winton: "I've never known this to be against the law."
But according to one officer, it is. Now, let's check with one attorney who has never strapped on a gun or carried a badge. Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "I believe that this officer is completely wrong. Some courts have already ruled that you can flash oncoming drivers to warn them that the police have set up a speed trap. And of course, you can flash your lights to warn someone that their headlights are not on. So if you get a ticket, go to court and fight it."
We then asked Mark Jones, an attorney, to go to St. Lucie County to help Dean fight the ticket. In court, the judge told Dean, 'I don't know what happened here, but if you are flashing lights to warn people of law enforcement officers, you are acting like a kid.' However, he added, flashing the lights was not illegal, and the judge dismissed the ticket against Dean.
Howard says, the officer misunderstood the law.
Howard Finkelstein: "There is a law that bans flashing lights, but it bars the kind of red and blue lights used or allowed on police or rescue vehicles. It has nothing to do with flashing your headlights to warn about a speed trap."
Dean is not sure the officer misunderstood the law. In fact, with all the government agencies out of money, he thinks the ticket was a money grab.
Dean Winton: "It seems to me that they use this statute in order to generate revenue by pulling people over."
Patrick Fraser: "Officers writing tickets for flashing headlights may stop soon. The attorney who helped Dean has filed a class action lawsuit to block cops from writing the tickets and get the money back for people who paid the tickets. That lawsuit will take about a year, so in the meantime, go to court and fight the flashing headlight tickets."
Want to shine a light on your headache? Need a flash of brilliance? Good luck. But in the meantime, speed over to us. Hopefully, we will write up a ticket for a solution. A free ticket.