The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

April 11, 2014

Judge says flashing headlights free speech

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Hauling a truckload of logs to a Southern Oregon mill last fall, Chris Hill noticed a sheriff’s deputy behind him and flashed his lights to warn a UPS driver coming the other way.

The deputy pulled over Hill on U.S. Highway 140 in White City and handed him a $260 ticket for improperly using his headlights, saying another deputy had seen the flashing lights from behind the UPS truck and alerted him to stop the log truck because of the signaling.

Outraged, Hill decided to fight the ticket, and on Wednesday, a Jackson County Justice Court judge dismissed the citation, finding that motorists flashing their headlights amounts to speech protected by the Oregon Constitution.

Judge Joseph Carter determined the law covering the use of high beams was valid, but was unconstitutional as it was applied by the deputy.

“The citation was clearly given to punish the Defendant for that expression,” the judge wrote. “The government certainly can and should enforce the traffic laws for the safety of all drivers on the road. However, the government cannot enforce the traffic laws, or any other laws, to punish drivers for their expressive conduct.”

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office did not return a telephone call for comment.

Hill, 38, of Klamath Falls, has been driving truck for 10 years, and was not interested in seeing his insurance rates go up for getting a ticket. He initially told the deputy that the UPS driver was his neighbor, and he was just saying hello.

“My point to the cop was his partner didn’t know why I was flashing my lights,” Hill said.

By the time his case went to court last month, Hill had researched the law and found nothing that expressly prohibited the use of headlights to signal other drivers. He also recalled a TV news story about a federal judge in the Midwest barring police from handing out tickets to drivers who flashed their lights to warn others of a speed trap ahead.

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