KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The American Civil Liberties Union announced Thursday that it has settled a lawsuit with a Kansas City suburb after the town agreed to stop ticketing drivers who flash their headlights at oncoming traffic to warn that a speed trap lies ahead.
The group filed a federal suit on behalf of Jerry L. Jarman Jr., who was ticketed in August in Grain Valley, a Missouri town of about 13,000 residents on the eastern edge of Kansas City, for violating a city code that bars against interfering with radar and other speed-checking devices.
The ACLU of Missouri alleged Jarman, who lives on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolitan area, was "engaged in expressive conduct." The suit said the traffic stop violated his First Amendment right to free speech and Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The charge was dismissed in October, but the suit said that without a court ruling, Jarman feared he would be penalized in the future.
"We are pleased that Grain Valley agrees that drivers should not be penalized for warning others to drive cautiously," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, in a written statement. "Flashing headlights is a readily understood way of communicating a message and is protected by the First Amendment."
Ryan Hunt, the interim city administrator for Grain Valley, said the city changed its ordinance in December and agreed to pay $5,560 to Jarman. Hunt said that from 2008 through 2014, about 10 light-flashing tickets were issued, but he wasn't aware of any of the tickets resulting in fines.
"I don't think the original ordinance's intent was ever to ticket people for flashing their lights or stop them for that matter," Hunt said, adding that the goal was to prohibit things such as radar-jamming devices. "Once we saw that the ordinance wasn't really that clear, we were happy to change it."
Last year, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the St. Louis County town of Ellisville from arresting and prosecuting drivers who flash headlights to warn others of nearby police and speed traps.