How many of you thought trench coats and how many thought high beams? The trench coat topic is probably more fun, but the high beam law is more relevant to most of us.

Why? What could be important about high beams? Well….since the police need a reason to stop you, and improper use of high beams counts, and since stops can lead to arrests or tickets, this is good stuff to know.

A few years back there was a cop in my area who used to drive around with his high beams on in the hope of provoking oncoming drivers to flash their lights at him. We’ve all done it. High beams are flashed to let the other driver know you are being blinded by his high beams. It is common practice and a matter of safety.

When an oncoming driver would flash at this officer, the driver would get pulled over. Maybe the cop would find a DWI, maybe nothing. He was fishing, but his bait was illegal.

So what was the cop doing wrong? The statute in question, New York’s Vehicle & Traffic Law § 375(3), makes it illegal to drive with your high beams on within 500 ft of a vehicle approaching from ahead and 200 ft of approaching a vehicle from behind. But it does not forbid the common practice of flashing your lights to remind other drivers their high beams are on at the wrong time.

The Court of Appeals has clearly stated, “The mere flashing of lights, alone, does not constitute a violation of the statute.” People v. Meola, 7 NY2d 391 (1960).

1960! The cop knew or should have known stopping people for flashing their high beams was illegal. If he knew, he was deliberately violating the rights of citizens. And if he didn’t know, shame on him for not paying attention in the academy. But….and this is KEY….if the public knows, cops who are rusty on the law or who are purposely violating it won’t get away with being naughty.

When the cop tells you he pulled you over for flashing your high beams, image his chagrin when you say, “But officer, flashing doesn’t count as a violation according to the Court of Appeals.”

The cop in question had to watch the DWI case he filed against my client be dismissed. The stop was based only the flash. There was no erratic driving & no other violations of the VTL (& a very low breath test reading). If the stop is bad, the rest of the case fails.

The key to keeping the powers that be honest is to know your rights. I hope this helped.

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