Don’t ticket those who warn of traps
Published: Sunday, September 18, 2011
Updated: Sunday, September 18, 2011 16:09
If you're seeking to warn a fellow driver of an upcoming speed trap, you may have just caught a lucky break.
The Florida Highway Patrol has temporarily stopped writing tickets to motorists who flash their headlights to warn drivers of speed traps, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The Seminole County Sheriff's Office has also put a stop to this practice, and the Orange County Sheriff's Office has deemed it illegal.
Members of our law enforcement community should not be handing out tickets for this particular type of infraction. They have a difficult and dangerous job as it is, and handing out tickets for this violation unnecessarily adds to their workload.
There are several other types of simple violations that police officers can focus on to improve public safety. According to the 2009 Uniform Traffic Citation report from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the total seatbelt and child-restraint citations in the state rose from 312,366 in 2008 to 374,641 in 2009.
This amounted to an increase of 19.94 percent, according to the report. This is a simple infraction, but it is one that is important to the safety of drivers and children being transported in vehicles. For unbelted drivers, citations in the state rose from 249,667 in 2008 to 302,898 in 2009, which represents an increase of 21.32 percent, according to the report.
These are both simple violations that law enforcement can focus its energy on rather than a driver flashing his headlights to warn of a speed trap. Law enforcement also has other serious violations it can focus on, such as driving under the influence of alcohol.
As of the 2009 report, the state showed a small measure of success in reducing the frequency of these violations, lowering the total number of violations from 64,654 in 2008 to 63,019 in 2009, which is a decrease of 2.53 percent, according to the report.
The other issue at hand is that many legal experts agree that law enforcement simply does not have the authority to be issuing these types of citations. Campbell & Jones, a law firm in Winter Springs, has filed a pair of lawsuits contending that any Florida cop who writes these tickets is violating a driver's constitutional right to free speech.
These lawsuits also allege that cops who write these tickets are misapplying a statute designed to keep drivers from adding after-market emergency lights to their vehicles, according to the Sentinel. They also reported that Bernie Rice, legal director at the Orange County Sheriff's Office, came to the same conclusion.
"Does Florida Statute 316.2397(7) or another state law authorize law enforcement officers to ticket drivers who flash their headlights to warn other motorists of nearby traffic enforcement operations? No," Rice said.
Members of law enforcement have a very difficult and serious job to perform. We need to provide clarity to them so that they know how to enforce this particular statute. To ask police officers to be citing drivers simply for using their headlights to warn other drivers of speed traps increases their workload and takes away from the ability to focus on enforcing more serious violations.
There are also serious legal questions at hand with this policy. Police officers should not be required to ticket drivers for this type of violation.