/ 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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Bill T says:
7 January 2011

One thing that worries me with speed cameras is their location, especially in view of some of today’s speed. Let us assume a number of cars are in a hurry. The first car spots the camera and hits his brakes. What happens to the cars behind it? Are we likely to have a number of rear shunts?
Maybe forewarned could reduce this happening.
Many years ago the local Ambulance service bought a number of Ford Granadas, fitted them with lights and markings and used them for long distance patient transport. I cam from Manchester on the M56 towards Chester and as I was passing the Airport you should have seen the sudden application of brakes as motorists hit their pedal to slow down. When I got closer I realized that it was an Ambulance car not a Police car. However the sudden braking in rush hour traffic could quite easily have resulted in a massive pile up, as car brakes and decision making is not equivalent between all motorists. Yet according to my road atlas motorways are the safest of roads per vehicle.

Phil says:
7 January 2011

“The first car spots the camera and hits his brakes. What happens to the cars behind it? Are we likely to have a number of rear shunts?”

Not the fault of the camera though is it? The responsibility lies solely with the cars behind for following too close or not paying attention. The first car could have to brake for a 101 reasons, child in the road, puncture, mechanical failure, medical emergency, flagged down by police; you name it.

Phil says:
7 January 2011

“Having been involved in an accident a few years before, caused by other drivers slamming their brakes on,”

As I’ve already said accidents aren’t caused by drivers “slamming their brakes on” but by following drivers failing to apply theirs in time. This really is a ridiculous statement.

Completely agree – the fault is with those that are not paying attention – period.

If you are going faster than the speed limit – you are not paying attention – If you hit the car in front you are also not paying attention. There really is no excuse.

Bill the Bus says:
8 January 2011

What if you were to apply your hazards to show the speed camera is illegally parked and often creating a hazard as the majority are in this area. The police have been forced to re-locate 2 vehicles in the recent past due to the legality of their parking.

I drive for a living and drive around 50,000 miles yearly on town and rural roads, non motorway, and have not had any form of prosecution but i can honestly say that i have crept over the limit inadvertently on several occasions.

I think a much safer idea is the newish signs that are now placed in danger areas to warn of speeding, indicating your speed as surely this is going to remind people of the speed limit. I agree with many others that the police ‘MAINLY’ use these cameras in areas where the most revenue can be made and not as a road safety tool.

These are still my thoughts even though i have seen both sides of the argument. I lost a 17 year old daughter in a car crash where the driver was speeding excessively tho he got off with it as the the jury found the driver not guilty even though the evidence proved his guilt. (The judge closed the court after the case to chat with the jurors to find out how the **** they had come to their decision).

Jeff says:
8 January 2011

This seems to have degenrated into a slanging match about speed. The consensus appears to be that speeding is wrong, but let’s get back to the point about flashing lights.
Does giving people the opportunity to slow down constitute an offence, when the camera is there do that anyway?

Bill the Bus says:
8 January 2011

personally i think not. If the aim of the camera is to slow vehicles down and the aim of flashing lights is to slow vehicles down then they achieve the same thing.


People do not flash about static speed cameras – the signs are there BEFORE the car approaches the area.

If police are activating a mobile speed trap – it is usually because of increased traffic problems. It is illegal to impede the police in carrying out their duty. Hence the conviction.

Phil says:
8 January 2011

Same old stuff from those who think that as they have spent thousands on their “toy” or have to use it to earn a living, they are exempt from the law and anti-social driving. Speeding in built up areas is a huge problem. If you think it isn’t then either exit my drive in the rush hour, or try becoming a pedestrian for a while.
You won’t be prosecuted for speeding at 31 in a 30 area, there is a margin of error allowed. If you are doing more than 35 in a 30 zone then I repeat my previous advice.
I too have a reasonably long driving history (35+ years) and no speeding or any other convictions. If someone tailgates me in a 30 limit (and please remember the definition of ‘limit’) I let them do what they want but at my speed. If they then overtake then I will happily be a witness if they cause a collision. I might add too that unless they are complete maniacs, nobody is held up by me. Indeed the number that tailgate me in the 30 limit then disappear in my rear mirror when it’s safe to speed up never fails to amaze.
If we all drove sensibly and with due thought to others there would be no speed cameras or radar traps. There would also have been far fewer car damaging speed humps in residential areas. They are there to save the innocent from the arrogant and long may they do so as far as I’m concerned.

Tintin says:
8 January 2011

As the old saying goes “Prevention is better than cure”. Warning on-coming drivers of any hazzard by flashing headlights gets my vote.

Anyway how did pc Plod track down Mr Thompson in the first place?

Tintin says:
8 January 2011

Furthermore, at the time of typing the above comments I noted that 215 people had voted that it should NOT be an offence to flash a warning to oncoming drivers and only 43 people had voted that it should be an offence. Is this country becoming a Police State or is it a democracy?

RichardL says:
8 January 2011

I agree that there is an inconsistency with the ‘notification’ of a speed trap, whatever the type. Gatsos are painted bright yellow at the insistence of motorists who felt cheated when caught. Similarly, there are camera warning signs to alert drivers that they are approaching an area where speed traps may be used. What the difference is between these and drivers flashing their headlights I don’t know. However, if drivers still exceed the speed limit even though these signs are displayed (and you know who you are) you should take your punishment quietly and resolve not to do it any more. The number of cars streaming past me on a 60 limited road (with crosshatching down the middle) is alarming and the Road Safety Partnerships should be encouraged to prosecute these selfish drivers who think that accidents can only happen to others.

This is what I was trying to point out yesterday – what is the difference between a motorist ‘flashing’ headlights and:
a) publicity in local papers;
b) on the internet;
c) as RichardL highlights above, camera warning signs etc, etc?

waits to be promptly shot down in flames……………………….:-)

A speed camera sign is exactly the same as a speed sign and is on the nearside of the road – it warns you of the situation and is LEGAL.

To flash oncoming cars to warn them of a mobile speed trap and is stopping police executing their duty to apprehend speeding motorists and is ILLEGAL.

That’s why he was convicted.

John says:
8 January 2011

The increase in the use of cameras & traps is little more than pandering to the speed brigade as an excuse for more tax. I don’t believe any other reason.
I would prefer to see drivers being better trained & re-tested every 5 or 10 years – especially as we get older – reactions are slower, older drivers never update their own knowledge of the highway code unless they’re members of Adavanced Motorists etc.
3,000 deaths & no retests.
In construction, there’s 100 dead & machines drivers get tested every 5 years.
In private flying, 10 to 20 are killed & pilots are re-tested too.
Why are drivers not re-tested ? I’d happily pay to confirm competence & get the old boys off the road that can’t do it anymore. I also like the trial on the A42 & A14 of keeping wagons to lane 1 between 7am & 7pm. Those roads have fewer frustrated drivers on them now !

Sorry disagree – If you speed you are not obeying the highway code.

Taking and passing a test only states that you know how to drive properly – NOT that you DO drive properly.

My daily drives proves daily that far too many people do NOT drive properly.

John says:
9 January 2011

Which bit do you disagree with – stealth tax or something else ?

Derek B says:
8 January 2011

Most accidents, ide say 90% are the fault of the NUT behind the wheel. See and Think ahead, know whot is going on behind you (rear view mirrow) Condition of the road, And yes SPEED can kill at 25 MPH. Drive to the conditions at the time.sorry about spelling new to this thing.

Couldn’t put it better myself! 🙂

Also too many think they can drive – and can’t

John says:
9 January 2011

I agree with this comment.
So how would you feel about a competent driver, suitable straight length of road, no hazard, car made for speed – going faster than the limit ? Is it a principal of being over the limit, yet safe, or being unsafe because some think “speed kills” ?

John says:
9 January 2011

So if conditions were suitable, could one exceed the limit – or are we talking point of principle here ?

Harry says:
9 January 2011

If safety is really the issue what about the actual speed limits set. Does anybody really believe that someone sitting in an office months ago is better able to decide what is a safe speed than an experienced driver who can judge road surface condition, visibility, other traffic and the proximity of pedestrians? And how can one limit be appropriate for different vehicles with vastly different handling and stopping distances?

Phil says:
9 January 2011

“Does anybody really believe that someone sitting in an office months ago is better able to decide what is a safe speed than an experienced driver..”

Trouble is everyone thinks they’re an experienced driver who knows best. That includes the uninsured oik in the modified hatchback and the **** with a mobile phone permanently clamped to one ear.

John says:
9 January 2011

And don’t forget it includes you & I ….we think we’re better than most others too

Ronald Dewhirst says:
10 January 2011

In 30 years of driving I’ve never been caught speeding but have exceeded the speed limit in the days before speed cameras. I was young and foolish. I think that speeding drivers deserve to be fined etc. and if speed cameras are needed to enforce the law due to people breaking it then so be it. Irresponsible drivers have brought speed cameras into being and now we all have to keep to the limits. 30mph, 40mph and 70 mph are all fast enough for me. I ride a bicycle when not driving a car and this does change your perspective on speeding drivers somewhat!

John says:
16 January 2011

A wish for extra money also brought cameras in …like fuel duty

5 series BMW lover says:
14 January 2011

How come “Safety camera vans” are so called because they are meant to be preventative, (not police money machines of course), but increasing their preventative effect by drawing other drivers’ attention to them is a crime?

Respect for the police is at an all time low, getting lower, and is continuing to dive. Being a policeman dived below being an estate agent long ago. They’re now just one team of professional criminals fighting another team of self-employed criminals.

John says:
16 January 2011

For all you claimed none law breakers ….

“Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

You might claim not to speed, but there’ll be something else you do. None of us should paint a picture that we’re whiter than white, because nobody is.
I have often exceeded the speed limit since passing my test in 1981 & I admit to it.
I have allowed myself to be distracted.
I have done many things I shouldn’t.
I have learnt from them & they have made me a better driver because I’ve experienced more than the “normal”.

So as far as I’m concerned – you should be ashamed. Your “example” is probably the reason why so many drivers are so bad.

What I have said is that all that speed should be caught and prosecuted – and citizens should not hinder the police in the execution in their duty. That was what the man was prosecuted for.

In all honesty if “often exceeded the speed limit ” and “I have allowed myself to be distracted.” is true – you certainly haven’t learned from them.

I thought I’d add my demeanours

In 1947 – started driving motorcycles – went over 70 – but there was no 70 speed limit – However in the next 10 years – I lost 6 friends in crashes – That taught me to drive much more carefully than my dead friends. Years later I used to help run an RAC/ACU motorcycle training scheme – It emphasised driving safely and obeying ALL traffic laws.

In 1950 – I was stopped just outside Brighton for speeding at over 30 mph – it was 33 mph – I was on my bicycle and it didn’t have a speedo – but it taught me that it was possible to exceed the speed limit – I ensured I didn’t in future. – However I was perfectly prepared to pay a fine – I had broken the law.

In 1959 – I was stopped because my Mini number plate light wasn’t on – I explained that I thought it was working before I started the journey – I was perfectly prepared to pay a fine – I had broken the law.- The policeman let me off. – I also now always check my lights before I drive as we are supposed to anyway.

In 1960 (I still had a motorcycle as well) – I was stopped for driving my motorcycle the wrong way around a road island (to avoid a starting bus that pulled out as I was passing) and charged with dangerous driving. I disagreed and pleaded “Not Guilty” to no avail to the arresting policeman. I spent all the next Saturday taking photographs of the scene and took numerous measurements. Several incidents occurred during that time that illustrated buses pulling out without enough care.
The magistrate agreed with me – and after a little ‘campaign’ (writing letters) the bus stop was moved 35 yards further away from the island so there was a gap sufficient to overtake the starting bus and back to the right side of the road.. However I was always perfectly prepared to pay a fine – I had broken the law – technically.

In 1980 – I forgot to buy a TV license – and I was “visited” – I explained – and set up a direct debit so I would not “forget” again. I was perfectly prepared to pay a fine – I had broken the law. Ignorance is not a plea

In 2007 – I was walking my dogs – and found that I had forgotten to carry enough poop bags. So inevitably one dog needed to “go” – so I carefully picked it up using my handkerchief and put it in the gutter. – On our next walk – I removed the ‘pile’ from the scene. However if I had been caught – I would have happily paid the fine – I had broken the law.


Every time speed is mentioned on Conversation, you pop up and condemn others. I expect that most of those who participate are careful drivers, even if we are not perfect. I am confident that many of us have pretty good driving records, a healthy respect for the law and use this forum for friendly and varied discussion.

Perhaps you could add lack of tolerance to your commendably short list of lifetime failings. 🙂

We’ll be talking about this on the cars podcast (which.co.uk/podcasts) available Thursday.

Murram says:
22 January 2011

I voted NO to the question “Should drivers be penalised for warning…….”, but that does not mean that I agree with drivers speeding, I do not. However the term speeding seems to now mean breaking the speed limit whereas I maintain that it should mean, driving at a speed that is excessive for the conditions.
As mentioned above, speed cameras always seem to be located on straight wide roads, whereas there are much greater dangers in speeding on narrow twisty roads or housing estate roads. On these the unexpected obstactle in the road or child running out without looking is ever present, but this is not considered by the inconsiderate drivers who speed along regardless.
The introduction of speed cameras seemed to coincide with the reduction in number of police traffic vehicles on the road. There are many other dangerous activities that are happening on the roads that are not now dealt with because “speeding” has become the main target and speed cameras have become the cheapest was of dealing with it.

Hector Macduff says:
22 January 2011

My local paper publishes the dates and locations where mobile speed cameras are to be operated.
Can’t see the difference between this and flashing a warning. A bit unfair on anyone who does’nt get the local paper though!

John Speller says:
13 December 2011

Speed is not an indication of safe driving. Safe driving is. It’s possible to drive badly and fast or badly AND slowly!

Surely the point of speed cameras and speed traps is to encourage drivers to slow down.

If citizens/members of the public are assisting the police achieve this by flashing their lights at speeding drivers then shouldn’t this be encouraged?

If you have just driven past a camera or speed trap on your way home, walk in the front door and then warn your family about it as they’re just about to travel along the same stretch of road, is this illegal?

How much time must elapse before it is no longer an offence, or considered to be “obstructing a policewoman in the execution of her duty”, to speak of these things?!

Finally, where in the Highway Code is it written that you are not allowed to encourage other road-users to drive safely.

All4One_One4All says:
11 February 2012

Most of the comments on this thread repeat the same points of view over and over so I thought I’d broaden the perspective.

Unfortunately decades of mismanagement of our economy by successive Governments has resulted in an ever increasing Public/Civil Service that is increasingly cash hungry. The declining Private Productive Sector (PPS) has to pay ever more tax, duty and fines to keep this Public Unproductive Sector (PUS) in the lap of luxury that it has become used to; so used to, that it now thinks it has a right to such a lavish lifestyle (eg pay and pension) forever.

Consequently, the cash strapped Governments of recent years, rather than target genuine criminals, target those most able to pay, and those who would lose the most by not paying. Justice has nothing to do with it. For example, fail to tax your car (the reason is irrelavant), and it may be siezed and crushed. So it could be anything from a £200 banger to a £70000 Range Rover Sport HSE. Apart from the fact that crushing a brand new motorcar is environmentally ridiculous;
for the same offence, one person ends up paying 350 times more. It’s unlikely, but the owner of the £200 banger could be the wealthier person. Justice has nothing to do with it.

It’s the same with speed cameras. They predominantly target ‘amateur criminals’ (professional criminals drive stolen vehicles and just aren’t bothered), so perhaps we should have an amateur unpaid/voluntary police force that concentrates on such ‘amateur crime’, leaving our extremely well paid ‘professional’ police force to target professional criminals. And just in case anyone doubts that our Police are very well paid, look at the history as to why they are so well paid.

Just thought I’d compare police (http://www.police999.com/forum/index.php?topic=5271.0;wap2) and soldiers (http://www.army.mod.uk/documents/general/Soldier_Pay.pdf) annual pay:
Police Army Career Point Police earn
——- ——- ———————– ———–
£23,259 £13,895 On joining 67.4% more
£25,962 £17,265 Completion of training 50.4% more
£36,519 £30,012 Promotion to Sargeant 21.7% more
Don’t forget that soldiers have the added perks of being sent on holidays in sunny countries (Afghanistan) with free incoming rounds (that doesn’t mean beer), cocktails of IEDs, etc. and that lovely organisation, the HMRC will “As discussed on BBC Money Box, soldiers serving in Afghanistan will still face penalties if they fail to file [tax returns] by the 31 January deadline, but there will the chance to appeal.” (http://www.davenportenterprises.co.uk/hmrc-will-cancel-late-filing-penalties-for-soliders).

So now we’ve travelled full circle – and we’re back to those who can pay will pay regardless of whether it’s their fault or not. Justice has nothing to do with it.