At the beginning of the year 2013, let’s give a shout-out to last year’s Legislature for righting a small but annoying wrong in the state’s highway laws: As of Jan. 1, it was legal for drivers to flash their lights at oncoming motorists. For whatever reason.
This form of communication had been discouraged to the point of traffic tickets by law enforcement agencies. The reason? Some people have always tended to signal fellow motorists to the presence of speed traps. Some consider it a wrong, a perversion of justice; others, perfectly honorable behavior, a civil courtesy.
Regardless of the morality of the intent, it does seem basically a matter of speech, a small one at that. And, no, it is laughably far from shouting a warning to thieves about the approach of police. The point, after all, is to get people to slow down and follow the speed limit, not to pad the public coffers with ticket revenue. If flashing does the trick, then what’s the real harm?
Surprisingly, between 2005 and 2010 an estimated 2,400 people paid fines for flashing their lights to warn other motorists, according to The Associated Press. One man, who had been given a $115 ticket, was successful in a lawsuit last year, and a lawyer pressing the issue insisted the Highway Patrol had been misinterpreting state law intended to forbid bubble lights and strobes.
According to the AP, Oviedo lawyer J. Marcus Jones now warns the new law doesn’t go far enough: Another state law forbids the use of high beams within 500 feet of an oncoming car or 300 feet behind. Seriously? If that law were enforced in Florida, the jails would be overflowing. The same for driving slowly in the left-hand lane or leaving the blinker on.
A small step then. Among the other new highway laws listed by the AP is a provision that would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to email driver renewal notices, instead of sending renewals via Postal Service. Again, a worthwhile idea. Then there’s a law that allows people to drive golf carts on sidewalks along state highways. The kicker is the sidewalks have to be five feet wide. (Get out your tape measure.)
Looking ahead to 2013, we’ve got one traffic law on our wish list: the anti-texting legislation being offered by some legislators. This would allow police to ticket drivers for typing text messages while driving. It would be a secondary offense, which means police would need another reason to pull someone over in the first place. It would bring a non-moving violation with a small fine.
But a law could stop some people from fidgeting with their cell phones when they’re behind the wheel. We think this may be the year the Legislature agrees to act responsibly on this simple, popular measure.