Flashing Headlights In Michigan Is Protected By 1st Amendment, But Does That Mean It’s Legal?
With summer in full swing and sunsets later than ever, driving rules and habits are at their yearly worst. However, the one habit that is maintained no matter the season: headlight flashing. While many people view this simple act as a courtesy of some variation, could this seemingly harmless act actually be illegal?
Why Headlights Are Important
Like many things in the 21st century, headlights for cars are one of the many luxuries people tend to forget or take advantage of. While flashing headlights as a warning can be beneficial to keeping the road safe, with the late summer evenings there are more and more Michiganders leaving their lights off for longer periods of time. While dusk isn’t always dark, this is the time when headlights need to be turned on and properly used. If not, other drivers will take it upon themselves to warn you of your lack of light danger.
People flash their headlights as a courtesy warning for many things, with the most common being one or two flashes. The flashing of headlights usually signals that the oncoming car doesn’t have their lights on, their high beams are on, there is an upcoming speed trap/officer, or there are deer ahead. Personally, I like to flash once for high beams or needing lights on, and flash twice for upcoming deer and police. Though the act of headlight flashing has been seen through the generations, is this courtesy act actually illegal? Or is it another law that has technicalities making it a case-by-case legality argument?
Is It Illegal?
According to the federal court, flashing headlights is a constitutionally protected form of speech. This means that while the terms of flashing may vary on a state-by-state basis, this is still a legally protected act.
However, if you are caught making these courtesy flashes within 500 feet of an oncoming car in Michigan then that is considered illegal and the flashing driver can be fined for violating a civil infraction. (If you’re not entirely sure how to gauge this gap to flash in time, a helpful tip is to remember a football field is 300ft)
Therefore, though this is seen numerous times each day, flashing headlights is illegal in Michigan but due to technicalities it is an overlooked (mostly) act by police since it is typically done by concerned citizens to maintain a safe road at night. Although, if the flashing of lights were to interfere with police duties regardless of distance to the nearing car, then they are able to pull you over for "interfering with a potential police matter".
“Dangers” To Headlight Flashing
Headlight flashing can be dangerous to one's driving record, as the civil infraction could add 2 points to a person's driving record. Flashing can occasionally be seen as an aggressive way to try and force cars to speed up or change lanes as an intimidation tactic. On the other hand, a sudden burst of bright light from high beams could momentarily blind the oncoming driver, making the situation much worse for both drivers on the road. Though, when most people think about the danger regarding flashing headlights, they think of the fable we’ve been hearing for years: flashing a car with no headlights on is a gang initiation tactic. This ‘initiation’ has been an urban legend for many states, for many decades. While there certainly are dangers to flashing one’s headlights, the one you shouldn’t be worried about is this fable.