We have a new hero - Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, R-Ocean.
Dancer is sponsoring a bill, A2922, to make it explicitly clear that there is nothing illegal about a driver flashing his or her headlights to warn another motorist that there is a speed trap ahead.
Actually, a U.S. District Court judge and a two-judge appellate panel in New Jersey have already ruled that flashing one's lights to warn an oncoming driver of a speed trap is perfectly permissible.
But Dancer and others worry that police are not aware of those decisions.
Dancer says that flashing one's lights is a free-speech issue, and we agree. Besides, as the assemblyman notes, flashing the lights to warn an oncoming driver of a speed trap has exactly the same positive effect as the speed trap itself - it makes people slow down.
This all should be rather obvious. Stopping and ticketing a motorist who has signaled oncoming drivers is simply a vindictive overreaction by police officers.
As the New Jersey appellate ruling in 1999 said, the state's statute regarding headlight use "was never intended to prohibit a motorist from warning oncoming motorists that a speed trap lies ahead."
The driver who brought that appeal was particularly unlucky. After passing a speed trap in Monroe Township, she flashed her lights at an oncoming driver to warn him. Little did she know that the driver was a police officer in an unmarked car coming to relieve the officer at the speed trap. Oops.
The court found her summons for misusing headlights so egregious that it threw out a subsequent charge of driving with a suspended license, which the officer discovered as a result of the initial, illegal stop.
This is admittedly a small problem. But it's an example of a larger problem - over-aggressive policing by officers who feel that any expression of constitutional rights is an affront to their authority. Another example would be the police who try to stop bystanders from videotaping an incident. The law is clear on that one too. As long as you are not interfering with or endangering the officer, you have every right to take that video, and the police have no right to stop you or to confiscate the recording.
There's plenty of real crime and real threats out there for police officers to focus on. Ticketing people who flash their lights at oncoming motorists is neither necessary - nor legal.
Lawmakers should approve Dancer's bill if for no other reason than to send a message to the law-enforcement community.