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Can I get a ticket for flashing high beams to warn drivers?

Published June 12, 2012
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Q: In past, police would often charge “Good Samaritan” drivers if they flicked their high-beams in daytime to warn approaching drivers that they’re headed for a police radar trap? Is this still being done by police?

Q: If a vehicle uses its high-beams after dark while following another vehicle too closely, then the driver can be ticketed by police. However, this begs an interesting question.

When you’re driving on a highway with a 100 km/h limit and another vehicle is doing just 90 km/h in the extreme left lane and holding up a series of other vehicles behind it, is it OK to momentarily flick on your high-beams in this situation?

Often, the offending driver is on the cellphone or otherwise distracted and may not be aware of the logjam they are creating behind them. A brief high-beam signal from a following driver may be just what’s needed to alert this driver to move over and let other drivers pass, thereby improving traffic flow for all.

More: Here’s how to use your high beams properly

A: Ontario Transportation Ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols replies:

It’s not recommended for drivers to flash their vehicle’s high beams while travelling behind another driver. Doing so may “dazzle” both the driver in front as well as oncoming drivers, particularly at night. This may create hazardous conditions for drivers who may be blinded temporarily by the glare of the high beams.

Further, you may be committing an offence under section 130 HTA for careless driving or under section 168 HTA by activating your high beams while following another vehicle within 60 metres or approaching an oncoming vehicle within 150 metres.

Enforcement of the Highway Traffic Act, including Section 147 which requires traffic moving at less than the normal speed of traffic to drive in the right-hand lane, is a the responsibility of police.

Eric Lai adds:

Traffic tickets are issued at police discretion. However, interpretation of the law is up to the courts.

In past, my colleague Jim Kenzie and myself took police to task for improperly ticketing drivers who flashed their headlights in daytime to warn oncoming drivers that they were approaching a speed trap.

The courts ruled this specific action was not illegal and that charges under section 162(2) HTA, which prohibits alternating high-beams on vehicles other than emergency vehicles, did not apply. All outstanding charges were tossed and police no longer issue such tickets at the direction of the Solicitor General.

Surprisingly, some critics — citing that the questionable police tactic was done “in the best interest of public safety” — took issue with our defending the driving public against an unlawful practice. To that, I’ll say the job of police is to enforce the law as it is written — not to extend it to circumstances where the courts have ruled that it clearly does not apply.

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