Ellisville man wins battle over flashing lights to warn of speed traps

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(KTVI) – It was a victory for drivers Monday and the use of flashing headlights to warn about police speed traps.

A federal judge's ruling in St. Louis could have ramifications across the U.S.

Flashing headlights has become a universal symbol meaning “slow-down police radar ahead.”

U.S. District Court Judge, Henry Autrey, of St. Louis issued a preliminary injunction ordering Ellisville Police to halt the policy.

He ruled flashing your headlights was free speech, protected by the First Amendment.

“If you’re at the gas station on the corner and someone says ‘hey be careful over there, there’s a speed trap’, that’s protected speech.  You can’t be ticketed for that.  This is no different,” said Tony Rothert, an attorney for the American Civil Liberty Union.

Ellisville dropped the case long ago, but Elli did not.

The ACLU joined him in filing suit against Ellisville.

In November of 2012, Ellisville Police pulled over Michael Elli, a retired West County resident who hadn’t been accused of a moving violation for more than 35 years, and cited him for flashing his headlights.  A judge later told him the standard fine for it was $1,000.

“In our view that’s speech that’s protected by the First Amendment and it’s also good for the public because it tells people to slow down, to use caution.  That’s never a bad thing,” Rothert said.

George Restovich, an attorney for the City of Ellisville, said the ruling was a moot point for Ellisville Police.

“They specifically took action by way of the chief of police to address this; to say that we will not arrest individuals, we won’t even stop individuals and we certainly won’t prosecute individual. I believe there were maybe 5 tickets that were issued in a similar fashion in the past decade,” Restovich said.

Rothert said he’d heard from people across the country about this case and Autrey’s ruling stood as the prevailing law of the land.

Autrey did not rule on Elli’s claim for modest damages in the case.

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