Last month, Jackson County Justice Court Judge Joseph Charter issued an opinion acquitting truck driver Chris Hill in a traffic violation case in which Mr. Hill was cited for improperly using his headlights. At trial, the Deputy that issued the violation testified that he cited Mr. Hill for using his lights to warn other drivers of the presence of law enforcement. Testifying in his own defense, Mr. Hill agreed that the purpose for flashing his lights was to warn other drivers of the police vehicle that was following him, and he asserted that the right to free speech protected that conduct. The judge agreed with Mr. Hill, having found that the citation was “clearly given to punish Defendant for that expression.”
The judge noted in his opinion that Oregon’s Constitution “creates a larger space” for freedom of expression than the First Amendment. The judge also cited a recent Missouri case, in which a federal judge came to the same conclusion when analyzing similar facts under the First Amendment. Even though states may have a variety of regulations on the subject, it appears that flashing headlights to communicate something to other drivers is a form of protected speech throughout the country.