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We’ve probably all seen and also probably done the light flash to signal to other drivers that the police are hiding somewhere.  Many of us do this softly rebellious action with pride as we keep our fellow drivers safe from predatory policing. But is this illegal? Are you allowed to warn other drivers that the police are hiding in order to catch people speeding? One guy got pressed hard by the police on this matter after nearly getting arrested. 

What is a speed trap?

Police officer hides on a bridge during a speed trap.
Speed trap | Getty Images

If you’ve never heard the term, you’ve probably still gone through one if you drive. Speed traps are a common tactic used by police to write speeding tickets by hiding somewhere along the road. They wait with a radar setup in order to catch drivers speeding. These are typically set up after a change in the speed limit, at the bottom of a hill, or other places where drivers might commonly surpass the speed limit. Many drivers feel as though speed traps only serve the interest of the police, not the interest of public safety. If stopping speeding was the goal, they wouldn’t hide. Everyone knows seeing a cop car on the roadside is a great way to get drivers to slow down. Hiding is only meant to catch and ticket speeders. It is for this reason that many drivers try to warn others when speed traps are laid. 

Man harassed by police for warning drivers of speed trap

This question was just answered by a judge in Delaware after a man was hassled for warning other drivers of a speed trap. 54-year-old Jonathan Guessford wanted to alert fellow drivers of a speed trap, so he wrote “radar ahead” on a large piece of cardboard and stood next to the road. 

Officers in the area showed up and ripped the sign out of his hands, claiming that he was infringing on police activity. Guessford told the officers that he was “engaged in a First Amendment activity.” Officers also claim that he was entering traffic based on a witness report. Guessford said he never entered the street. 

After the sign was taken from Guessford and ripped up, police let him go. The CBS report states he flipped them a middle finger as he drove off. The police then pursued him, exceeding 100 mph on a road that had a 55-mph posted limit in order to catch up with him. Once the officers caught up to him, they threatened him with arrest, impounding his vehicle, and the police even went so far as to tell Guessford they were going to call Social Services to have his child taken from him. Ultimately, they left him with a citation for using an “improper hand signal.” 

Are you allowed to warn drivers of a speed trap?

So what’s the deal? Can drivers warn other drivers about police activity? According to Middle Tennessee State University’s Free Speech Center, “The practice, common among motorists, of flashing headlights to alert other drivers to an upcoming patrol car has been claimed as a form of expression protected under the free speech clause of the First Amendment. Thus far, courts have generally interpreted the practice as protected free speech.” 

Guessford fought the law, and he won

Guessford took the matter to the courts, suing the police department. He won his $50,000 suit after it was deemed unconstitutional for them to take his sign, and the citation for flipping them the bird wasn’t supported by law either. Not only did Guessford take home a W, but the police officers involved were reportedly disciplined after an internal investigation.