My post on the increasing use of speed cameras back about ten days ago in which I though I was attacking the surveillance state attracted some criticism because it revealed inter alia that I am a reckless speeder. Now there is a piece in today’s Wash Post about a man driving to a ball game who was flashed by a car traveling in the opposite direction to warn him that there was a speed trap up ahead. He flashed back, was detected by an eagle eyed police officer, and fined \$50 because flashing headlights in Maryland is illegal. The police are also considering charging him with “obstructing a police investigation.”
Let it be known up front that I routinely warn other drivers about police speed traps by flashing my lights. Back in my youth it New Jersey it would have been considered unchivalrous to do otherwise. I will continue to engage in the practice as long as I drive. I suspect that there is a philosophical issue underlying my desire to play cat and mouse with the police. Some regard the police as stalwart men in blue who do no wrong and who uphold civic virtue. Having worked in an intelligence agency, somewhat akin to police work, I have a different viewpoint. Cops are guys holding down a job who do what they are told to do. They are not necessarily heroes or martyrs. If the local county is revenue shy and can work out some ingenious ways to fine the citizenry to raise money they will do so and the police will be tasked to pull in more miscreants and whack them with heavy fines. It is my responsibility to deny the state my earnings, so I will do what I have to do to avoid that possibility. Not long ago I was pulled over by a cop at three in the morning on a completely empty highway because I had changed lanes without signalling. \$80 bucks gone. Was I doing something unsafe or life threatening? Clearly not. Americans once had a certain respect for the police tempered by the healthy understanding that they are part of a system that might not actually be working in favor of the average citizen. Check out the view of police expressed in a novel by Dash Hammett or Raymond Chandler, for example. The cop could as easily be an enemy as a friend. Which comes back to the central issue of state intrusion in people’s lives. Passing a law prohibiting flashing lights on a car is clearly designed to make it easier for police to catch people, whether or not they are behaving recklessly. It denies the people the right to have some pushback in a system which is heavily weighted against the individual. I might also suggest that the right to flash my car lights might have something to do with the First Amendment since it is a form of communication.