You’re driving down the road, and you see that police have set up a speed trap. You flash your headlights to warn other drivers about the speed trap because you’re not a jerk. I mean, that’s what decent humans do, right?
The next thing you know, you’re pulled over by an angry cop who is accusing you of interfering with his ticket-writing. You’re even being threated with arrest for obstruction of justice!
Can you actually be arrested for obstruction of justice simply because you chose to flash your headlights?
How to Obstruct Justice
First, you need to know how to obstruct justice before you can know if you’re actually doing it when you flash your headlights.
If you interrupt, disrupt, impede, or otherwise interfere with an official performing in their official capacity, then you may commit the offense of “Interference with Public Duties.”
This isn’t an all-inclusive list, but some of these officials are:
- Peace officers performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law;
- Emergency medical services personnel who transport the injured or ill (paramedics);
- Fire fighters who are fighting fires or are investigating the cause of a fire;
- Police dogs if the person knows it is being used for law enforcement purposes; and
- Animal control officer while performing their duty.
So, you can tell by the language of the law that if you flash your headlights, then you might be interrupting, disrupting, impeding, or otherwise interfering with an official performing in their official capacity. But wait, you might have a “get out of jail free” card!
Defenses to Prosecution
Even though you may commit an offense, the law sometimes provides for defenses to prosecution.
First Amendment Defense
One such defense to this interference listed above is if the interference is by speech alone. Does that sounds a little like a First Amendment, freedom of speech, issue? Well you’re absolutely right. Your speech is protected, even if it interferes with public duties.
In fact, Texas law specifically states that it is a defense to prosecution if interrupting, disrupting, impeding, or otherwise interfering with an official performing in their official capacity is by speech only.
Flash Your Headlights Defense
The other defense is if the interference was intended to warn a motorist of the presence of a peace officer that is enforcing Subtitle C, Title 7, of the Texas Transportation Code.
You might be wondering, “What is in Subtitle C, Title 7, of the Texas Transportation Code?” A LOT of stuff! But the part that you care about most is that it contains the speeding laws. (i.e., speed traps)
That’s right, if your conduct, (when you flash your headlights) is intended to warn a motorist about a speed trap ahead, then you have a valid defense to a charge for Interference with Public Duties.
Flash Your Headlights, Just Not Too Close
To answer the question that I posed in the beginning: NO, you cannot be arrested for obstruction of justice for warning other drivers about upcoming speed traps.
However, you cannot illuminate your high beams if you are within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle. 500 feet is about 1.5 football fields, or about 5 Mississippies @ 70 mph.
The law says nothing about the flashing of high beams at night, so long as you do not activate your high beams within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle.
Now that you know that you can flash your headlights as an exercise of your first amendment rights, don’t be shy about warning your fellow motorists. Be a Patriot, exercise your rights, and flash your headlights!
But if you’re REALLY feeling bold, you could even go so far as to hold up a sign next to the road warning motorists about the speed trap up ahead!
–Authored by Matthew L. Harris, Esq.,
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Civil LItigation Division
1101 Broadway, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3303
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479