/ Motoring

Why shouldn’t drivers flash others about speed traps?

Car headlights in the dark

Penalising drivers for flashing their lights to warn others about speed traps might be ok by the Highway Code, but it doesn’t promote road safety. More drivers should adopt these ways to improve camaraderie on roads.

Earlier this week, Michael Thompson, 64, was prosecuted for warning other motorists they were heading towards a speed camera.

Having been involved in an accident a few years before, caused by other drivers slamming their brakes on, Mr Thompson believed it was his ‘civic duty’ to alert other drivers and encourage them to slow down more gradually.

However, Mr Thompson was convicted of obstructing a policewoman in the execution of her duty, and ended up with a fine and costs totalling £440.

The Highway Code states that you should only flash your car’s headlights to let other road users know you’re there, not to convey any other message. But many drivers do flash their lights to warn of an obstacle or other hazard ahead.

Let’s promote camaraderie

I’ve been grateful to others for doing this in the past – some have warned me about horses up ahead, and others have spared me from a speeding ticket. So I have a lot of sympathy with what Mr Thompson did.

For one thing, you could argue that by getting motorists to slow down, Mr Thompson was actually helping the police and promoting road safety, as he was encouraging others to drive below the speed limit. More importantly, he was one rare driver who was promoting the camaraderie that used to be so common on British roads.

One of the founding principles of the AA, established in 1905, was to help motorists avoid police speed traps. And in these days of clogged, road-rage filled streets, surely a return to the friendliness that once existed between drivers is a good thing?

So is it right to warn other drivers if they’re heading towards a speed trap? Or should you leave them to plough on and end up with a fine and points on their licence in the hope it’ll encourage them to drive more slowly in the future?

Should drivers be penalised for warning others about speed traps?

No (85%, 981 Votes)

Yes (15%, 178 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,159

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As far as I’m concerned – people that exceed the speed limit should be caught – and punished. So any driver that tries to warn speeding motorists of an impending speed trap should also be punished.

Sean says:
7 January 2011

Well Richard, I hope you still have that point of view when you get three points and a £60 fine for doing 31 in a 30!

Sean – I have driven for over 60 years – I have never been convicted of driving over the speed limit – So in all honesty – I doubt whether I will exceed the speed limit. I haven’t had an accident either – and I drive in London daily at peak times.

What I have noticed is the increasing number of motorists that do exceed the speed limits – and drive carelessly.

Speed kills – Breaking the Law should be punished whatever that law is –

Sean says:
7 January 2011

Richard, it’s probably because you drive in London that you cannot get past 2nd gear and therefore never get the opportunity to exceed 30mph! If you have been driving for 60 yrs, you have not even done a driving test (as the test was not implemented then).
The law is an ***. Would it not be more effective for police officers to be highly visible when conducting speed traps (as they are supposed to do according to their guidelines)? Surely when motorists see police they will slow down. The system now is that you are unaware that you have been caught speeding until you get a summons through the post!
In Northern Ireland they hide under bridges, they sit on hard shoulders (facing oncomong traffic!), they use unmarked vans and cars (in the case of the vans, they open one rear door just enough to get you in their sites. They use the fact that they are targets for terrorists for their sneaky actions (utter rubbish in my opinion).
Sorry, but I disagree with you. Speed does not kill, INAPPROPRIATE speed kills. The police however never take this into consideration. Is it really safe to drive at 30mph outside a school, even though technically you are not breaking the law? Equally is it really unsafe to drive at 80mph on the motorway in a modern car?
I would like to add that older people are also a danger on the road, as their reflexes, eyesight and judgement of oncoming traffic speed is poorer than a younger persons. I think they should be made to do the driving test again (or in your case for the first time!) at 70yrs of age and every 5yrs after that.

Sean – Sadly like many today’s drivers – you are mistaken – UK Compulsory driving tests started in 1935 – some 75 years ago’ As for keeping in second gear – you obviously don’t drive in London – I do, May I suggest you check the facts first.

We have highly visible static speed cameras – yet many irresponsible motorists ignore them. As far as I’m concerned If you exceed the speed limit – you should be caught and punished.

Speed kills – A crash is always at an inappropriate speed otherwise it wouldn’t happen.

Sean says:
7 January 2011


1st June 1935 – Compulsory testing brought in for all drivers who started driving on or after 1 April 1934:
2nd September 1939 – Driving tests suspended for the duration of World War Two and resumed on 1st November 1946.
24th November 1956 – Testing suspended again during the Suez Crisis. Testing is resumed on 15th April 1957 and has continued uninterrupted ever since.

I believe you missed the second world war and the Suez crisis, a period of almost seven years! I asked my father in law who is in his seventies and he told me he never done a test.
Anyway, the test you claim to have done cannot compare to modern tests in modern cars.
On the subject of London, a City I have visited many times, I believe the average speed is 9mph! That is a FACT, Google it if you don’t believe me.

Sean says:
7 January 2011

Correction – Over seven yrs!
P.S. What are you doing driving in London anyway, clogging up the streets and polluting the atmosphere? Why not use public transport, Have you ever heard of the tube?

Sean – First – I did not claim that the driving tests were compatible – I said that I have driven for over 60 years with a driving test – without a speeding conviction or accident. You were including temporary suspensions – .If you took a test in 1950 it still remains continuously valid until NOW that is SIXTY continuous years.

Second – we were not talking about AVERAGE SPEED – but speed limits – London average speed only .applies to Central London.- Not on arterial; roads. Usually I maintain roughly a 50 mph speed on the A406 daily.- As I said I drive in London daily – you don’t.

Third – I need to drive as I cannot carry all of my tools on a bus.daily – just like other working people – and have you actually tried carrying all your weekly shopping on a bus or a tube?? Remember I’m 80 years old – but I doubt irf a 40 year old could either.

Sean says:
7 January 2011

Richard, with all due respect, let’s agree to differ. We are never going to agree on this one.
I think what galls most people going about their business/taking their kids to school, who inadvertantly creep over the limit, is that they feel that they are easy targets for the police. I actually saw them at it again this evening. Guess where? at the bottom of a long hill, where of course a car may pick up speed. They ARE sneaky!
I hope you continue to have a clear record until the day you hang up the keys. If, like me, you get that letter through the post (quite clearly from the courts to shame you in front of the postman), you might understand how angry those of us who pay our bills/taxes etc. feel. It makes you feel like a criminal and does make you lose respect for the police.

haggis says:
7 January 2011

I agree, if you assist speeders by warning them about speed traps, then you are condoning their behaviour. People are blase about the problems of excess speed until they suffer as a result, either by prosecution or more directly by seeing the disastrous effects of bodies smashed in accidents where lowers speeds may have meant lesser injuries. I am not saying excess speed causes accidents (although it can do) but excess speed does mean that if an accident happens the results are usually worse.

Also, Mr Thompson “Having been involved in an accident a few years before, caused by other drivers slamming their brakes on” merely demonstrates that he’s a poor driver because he doesn’t leave sufficient space between himself and the car in front in order to pull up safely. Simple as that.

Howard of Hampshire says:
7 January 2011

We don’t know that the oncoming drivers were speeding, this was only a friendly, general warning. I don’t believe that this was a criminal act, therefore he should not have been treated as one with a fairly hefty fine.
Too many self righteous, pompous people wanting to give their viewpoint in my opinion

Sean says:
7 January 2011

Haggis, no one condones “inappropriate” speed, but you and I both know that police hide behind hedges to generate income. It’s not educational, rather it is punitive.
I was accelerating OUT of a built up area (on a dual carriageway with no possibility of pedestrians or other hazards in front of me) when I was caught from behind. Does it make me more respectful of the police and teach me to strictly adhere to speed limits? No, it teaches me to buy a “lazer alert” device for my car and drive in a paranoid manner, constantly scanning the hedges and footpaths ahead for sneaky cops (whilst also constantly looking at my speedometer – not too safe!).
Invariably, people who do strictly adhere to the speed limits, often drive at the maximum limit all the time, regardless of weather/traffic conditions, to make up time.
Flash away boys, better still, get a CB radio and the truckers will keep you right!

I’m all for flashing oncoming drivers to warn them – of either a Police Speed trap or an obstacle in the road.
It may be that the oncoming driver ISN’T speeding but I do like the sense of camaraderie (pardon the spelling) and the forewarning.

I wonder, do the above commentators think that the signs warning of speed camera’s in the area, are a poor judgement too?

Off on a tangent, it does remind me of that age-old tale of a man hurtling down a country lane and as he sped by a woman, she shouted out, “PIG!” to which he responded, “SOW!”
As he careered around the next corner there was the local farmers pig in the middle of the road…

Stewart Gebbie says:
7 January 2011

So if I ensure I religiously stick to the code then a few weeks back on a twisty road I came around a bend to be confronted by several angry bullocks blocking the road. I had to stop and then accelerate away fast to avoid being hit by one charging the car. So you must not flash drivers to warn them what they are about to experience just around the bend – a possible nasty accident. I must just drive on and dont care. This is political correctness gone mad.

Surely, Mr Gebbie, on such a road in these circumstances, you would roll down your window and flag down any oncoming driver with your arm explaining where possible the danger that lies ahead. You would, of course, additionally pull in as soon as possible where safe and telephone the police to report the danger so it can be dealt with.

Rosie – completely agree – and of course it is NOT against the law to warn oncoming motorists of a dangerous obstacle – only speed traps.

I really get fed up of the people that complain of speed cameras – THEN complain the police hide to get money off speeding motorists.

If they drive at or below the speed limit they are never convicted. Speed Kills.

I am currently working in BC Canada and not only do they flash each other but the local radio stations encourage you to phone in if a speed trap is set up and broadcast its location.

Tony says:
7 January 2011

The AA used to warn drivers by not sluting them in the old days. Saluting today would be impossible
So the principle was established years ago why not now?

David says:
7 January 2011

What he did is the same as a Speed Camera – he encouraged people to obey the speed limit – except he didn’t get paid for it……..

David says:
7 January 2011

This really is a nonsense. We have speed limits to try and reduce the number of accidents on the roads, not to annoy motorists. None of us obey the limits to the ‘nth’ degree and if limits were raised so would our perception of what we might get away with. Whilst there might be a case for reconsidering motorway speed limits the limits in town and on most country roads are quite high enough. If there was no pressure on us to obey it would be carnage. I have no sympathy with anyone who gets caught speeding, including myself, and I have been. It just shows how much attention we are paying to the road. I speak as a retired Police Officer with no interest in Traffic but with a great deal of experience in dealing with the aftermath of fatal accidents almost invariably caused by excess speed.

Totally agree. Too many motorists have no idea of the consequences of their actions – that’s why there are so many accidents – they are not “accidents” they are crashes!!!

Dave says:
7 January 2011

I live in the Highlands and agree speeding in built up areas, twisting roads, dangerous overtaking etc should be jumped upon from a great height and people banned if neccessary.
Unfortuately the police only target places like the A9 and A96 and areas that are usually straight roads and not as life threatning as the above.The times I have driven on twisting roads and have been overtaken by a maniac who just avoids oncoming traffic and then proceeds to do it again (white van man!!) are frequent here and where are the police then? Looking for easy targets else where unfortunately.Until things are fair lets keep flashing.

I agree with Dave. I frequently drive on the A68 south from Edinburgh to the Borders and it has more than its fair share of speed cameras. However, they are mainly positioned on the stretches of road where overtaking can be accomplished safely, i.e long straights with good visibility. Presumably this is done to optimise income since this is where drivers who are unfamiliar with the camera locations will be caught passing the slow traffic in front. The net result is that drivers are forced to attempt overtaking manoeuvres on less safe stretches with the consequential greater risk of an accident. I thought the cameras were only supposed to be placed at accident blackspots.

John Thomson says:
7 January 2011

re once again the tail wagging the dog I was of the understanding that the police [who we pay] were there
to protect the general public from thieves & vagabonds some times TERRORISTS but not to entrap motorists and make us the motorist a milch cow for the over staffed and over paid bully boys of the ESTABLISHMENT who it appears never ever get sorted out WHEN THEY DO ANY THING WRONG from shooting unarmed people to breaking the speed limits at etc etc

The police are also there to stop motorists speeding – as it is against the law whether you like it or not.

burnel penhaul says:
7 January 2011

I cannot see a problem with flashing lights, I was nicked many years ago in the 60,s for displaying
a warning on a piece of lino on the side of the road, as the motorists went past the speed trap they were laughing , the police became suspicious. They came and picked my piece of lino up as evidence, my defence was ,prevention is better than cure , but they would not accept it.How many people are familiar with that little tinkle on their sat nav or is that different?????? PS I got fined ***********

ICARUS says:
7 January 2011

1.Drivers of vehicles travelling at excessive speeds are major contributors to deaths and injuries caused to others using the roads.
2.Drivers failing to comply with speed limits (for whatever reason) commit criminal offences. The offence is “absolute” i.e. its commission does not require the offender to have mens rea (guilty intent). Most offences are committed because the driver is inattentive (chatting to passenger, using mobile phone, daydreaming or, worryingly, conducting a television interview while at the wheel). The same lack of concentration sometimes results in accidents of various degrees of gravity. Some observers make the valid point that any offending driver detected by a Gatso camera (a highly visible roadside device) should be prosecuted not only for exceeding the speed limit but for driving without due care and attention by having failed to be aware of its obvious presence.
3.Speeding on public roads could be all but eliminated by the use of concealed, mobile speed detectors. Mr Thompson and his ilk would be spared the problems arising from the precipitate actions of speeding drivers belatedly becoming aware that their transgressions were about to be detected by a speed trap and the question of prosecution for warning others of the existence of a speed measuring device would not arise.
4.The resultant massive increase in the disqualification of those many drivers who blatantly and deliberately flout the law on a daily basis would rapidly result in a reduction of vehicular congestion as the offenders were excluded from the roads which would quickly become much more safer places for law abiding motorists and other road users to enjoy.

Sean says:
7 January 2011

P.S. Icarus. Re: point 3. In N.Ireland we only have half a dozen fixed cameras. The majority of speed “traps” (which is a very true description) are concealed mobile detectors. We have the worst record for road deaths in all of GB, can you explain that?

Sean – Because you don’t comply with the speed limit??

Sean says:
7 January 2011

Very droll! But actually…no, I have no blood on my hands.
The reason is that these deaths mostly take place on the B roads. N. Ireland is mostly rural and the police only set up traps where they can catch as many motorists as possible, dual carriageways and |A roads – to make as much money as possible of course! They are NOT interested in road safety.

Sean says:
7 January 2011

P.P.S. Icarus, I have a full HGV and motorbike license and am most likely a far better driver than you.
I wonder are you as self righteous with your tax returns?

Brysy says:
8 January 2011

1. Speeding is illegal

2. Most people speeding only do it because they believe they can get away with it.

3. If you are not above the speed limit then you have nothing to worry about

4. the only ones bleating about speed cameras etc are the ones who are too arrogant to want to comply with the law

5. We need more camera and other deterents to stop the idiots who do speed

Harry says:
10 January 2011

Please check out the governments Office of Statistics website. ‘Exceeding the Statutory Limit’ was a factor in only 5% of all accidents and 17% of all fatalities. Significant yes, but hardly a “major contributor”!

All4One_One4All says:
11 February 2012

And who would then fund the Governments extravagant and inefficient public spending?

I suppose someone like you would suggest that those that lost their driving licences would continue to pay for vehicle excise duty, insurance, and fuel, plus VAT even though they’re not using any of these things!

Phil says:
7 January 2011

What if the analogy was someone preventing a criminal act by saying “Watch out you MAY be caught”? Surely, this would be welcomed? No criminal act and no victim, Good for us all and I am sure that the police would not be prosecuting you for obstruction.
Now I see the flashing of headlights as a way of saying the same thing “Watch out you MAY be caught”. It is then up to me if I act on it.
Also, the police can only prosecute if there is proof that the law has been broken. Up until the point that a driver is caught on a speed camera (or gun), the police cannot prosecute. I believe that the tenet of British law is that you are innocent until proven guilty holds for motorists as well as the rest of the population.
As far as headlight flashing goes, isn’t it time that the Highway Code was brought up-to-date and removed. The flashing of headlights is used so often to allow other motorists the right of way, or to show that it is OK to pull in during overtaking, or to indicate to pedestrians that it is safe to cross.

Yes – and I’ve seen “accidents” where drivers obviously don’t know the “flashing” language –

Flashing to other drivers is a new language !….
Flash 4 give way !
Flash 4 Thanks !
Flash 4 warning !
Flash 4 swearing !
It is not in a Highway code but they should now include in a highway code !….. Now a days flashing language is very popular among drivers !….On motor way, truck drivers always flash to other driver to join in their lane safely. If you give way,they will thank you with hazard lights.
Watch out,some flashing may create cashing your money 4 needful people !… Hope Flashing will be subject in next parliament as they are always looking 4 money !…
It is happening everywhere, how you are going to stop them ?

I have stickers on my patio doors and external windows, warning any intending intruder that my house is alarmed, and if they break in, their chance of getting caught will be greatly increased. I can’t see any difference when I flash my lights, as I invariably do on passing a speed trap, to warn others that if they are going too fast they will get nicked. If they slow down in consequence of my flashing, then an offence has been prevented, at least on that occasion,

So what if they were speeding before I flashed them? The burglar who heeds my warning labels and doesn’t break into my house may have been on a housebreaking spree and already broken into several others – I may not have reformed him but It stopped him offending on that occasion. What’s the difference?

Except flashing your headlights is against the LAW – putting notices outside your house is not.

The locations of the mobile speed cameras for the following week are given in our local paper each Saturday. I believe the information can also be acquired over the internet, so does this not constitute the same as other drivers ‘flashing’ a warning?

Danny – surely then they are not hidden.

steved1963 says:
7 January 2011

Surely those suggesting that sticking to the speed limit will reduce injuries would want all drivers to travel at the speed limit. This good samaritan was getting all the drivers on this road to abide by the speed limit where as the police were simply trying to catch them speeding. I think the reasoning of people who want drivers to speed so they can be caught is misguided and by their reconing dangerous!!!!

Nobody “wants” drivers to speed – They want them to drive at or below the speed limit. But frankly drivers that ARE speeding deserve to be caught.

Mark says:
7 January 2011

I am a member of HM Forces and a few months ago had to re-sit a UK Driving matrix test in order to remain qualified to drive military vehicles. The test was a civilian product and focused on knowledge and interpretation of the highway code (which I appreciate is not law). One of the questions referred to the correct use of flashing headlights at other drivers. The questions was multiple choice, I think I answered that it was to alert other drivers of your presence, irrespective I was most surprised to discover that the ‘correct’ answer was to alert other drivers of the presence of speed traps. Legal or not, whoever set this test doesn’t think so!

Mark – All I can say is the Courts do not think so – So I will follow the highway code as interpreted by the courts.

All4One_One4All says:
11 February 2012

The UK Matrix Test is considered to be incorrect in many respects.

For example, “Why should you leave more space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front when the vehicle in front is a lorry?
And the answer is because lorries take longer to stop!

So, if they take longer to stop, surely the following vehicle doesn’t need to leave as much space?

Bill T says:
7 January 2011

I have travelled often in a 30mph zone at 30 mph with nothing behind me only to be suddenly confronted by another driver tail gaiting, waiting for a chance to pass, which they do at the first opportunity. Or what about the gap you leave between yourself and the car in front for safety only for it to be filled by the racing idiot who wants to jump the queue and does not care about others. They never seem to get caught. Also have you been behind a police car doing 30 only to see that car pulling further and further ahead, but then they would know where any cameras are. Whilst I sympathize with the warning given by other drivers cameras do not differentiate between the driver who clocks 32 mph and the one doing 42 mph.

Bill – I agree with you about poor driving – The fact there seems to be more and more poor drivers only reinforces my opinion that those that exceed the speed limit should be caught and punished.

Cameras DO differentiate between 32 and 42 mph – BOTH are breaking the law. Cameras are designed to differentiate between someone doing 30 mph and 32 mph – they do that job well.

Speed kills.

It’s not speeding that’s bad, it’s dangerous driving. Dangerous driving can involve driving at excessive speed but it can also include many other things at speeds lower than the limit. And if we’re going to prosecute speeders then let’s also prosecute those who drive at ridiculously low speeds, for the conditions present, causing frustration for other road users.

I’m in the camp that warns other motorists. I’d rather an offence was prevented and my reason is this: if officers are genuinely present because they want to prevent an accident in that location, then lets help them in their job.

However, if they are present because they see rich, easy pickings then I’d rather prevent them from profiting. Because most of the general public are intelligent enough to realise when the risk of an accident on a given stretch of road is low where drivers are even slightly above the legal speed limit because they happen to be driving to the conditions and not presenting a risk themselves by having their eyes glued permanently to the speedometer. Frankly, it’s our way of telling officers, ‘our taxes should be paying you to solve far more serious crimes’.

And people who follow the letter of the highway code to each stroke and syllable are the type of people who are huge fans of political correctness and jobs-worthiness. The type of people who refer to Christmas as Winterval. The type of people who call blackboards ‘writing boards’. The type of people who still point at aeroplanes. Or worse – the type of people who’s lives are so sad and devoid of any excitement they cause accidents themselves through rubber-necking.

Let common sense prevail. Most of us are intelligent enough to know wrong from right – we don’t need the law (or a code) to tell us.