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Signal clear: Stop at red lights

MANATEE — It’s been nearly six years since Melissa Wandall lost her husband in a crash where a driver ran a red light at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and State Road 70.

This week, during National Stop on Red activities, she is hopeful people will remember to stop.

“It’s so important to raise awareness about what can happen in a moment just when we make a quick decision. I don’t think people set out every day to run red lights, but I think people are multitasking in their vehicles and they are not paying attention,” she said. “They don’t realize what can happen in a moment.”

Statewide, there were 76 fatalities and more than 7,100 incidents of injury and property damage that resulted from red-light running in 2008, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Law enforcement agencies including the Sheriff’s Office, Bradenton Police Department, and FHP will increase patrols this week near intersections where there are high rates of crashes.

“It’s one of the most dangerous violations out there . . . where people disregard a traffic signal. It’s something we take very seriously,” said FHP Lt. Chris Miller. “The red light crashes that result from those violations have a high occurrence of serious bodily injury with the possible side impact to driver side door. We do see a lot of serious bodily injury and death.”

Miller said drivers need to stop on red, prepare to stop on yellow and check the intersection before proceeding on green.

“Yellow lights do not mean accelerate as hard as possible and hope you make it through the intersection. A yellow light means prepare to stop,” he said.

The county will soon begin seeing red light cameras at intersections.

The city of Bradenton will dedicate the first red light camera at the intersection of U.S. 301 and Manatee Avenue at 8:45 a.m. Thursday on the corner property of the Bradenton Herald.

Manatee County commissioners approved a similar ordinance to the city. However, no cameras have yet ordinance to the city’s. However, no cameras have yet been installed.

“This is occurring at every intersection of the county. Where the cameras go, we’ll devote some time to the other locations,” said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Paul Fieber. “We think people run red lights thousands of times a day and I think the cameras are going to prove that. It’s occurring and we’ve got to lower the death rate in Manatee County as well as the state of Florida.”

In 2007, according to Florida uniform traffic citation statistics, there were 3,503 tickets issued for drivers running red lights in Manatee County.

The death of Wandall’s husband has made her work to get a state law, the Mark Wandall Safety Act, passed. The act would allow cities and counties to place red light cameras on state roads. Right now, it takes a long tedious process to do that, she said. The act would let cities and counties decide to install the cameras at their discretion on state roads.

“It’s a step in the right direction. It’s letting the community know that we’re taking this seriously. There is a problem and we’re going to get a device out there to curb those behaviors,” she said.

Last week, the Sheriff’s Office ran a red light sting on Thursday evening at two locations for about three hours. Ten people were arrested, including two DUIs, and 34 tickets were issued to drivers, Fieber said.

Many of the citations law enforcement issues are right-on-red violations, with about 10 to 20 percent of drivers blowing straight through an intersection, Fieber said.

Officers said they plan to focus on those violations.

“We’re looking for straight up and blatantly running the red light. Of course right on red causes crashes too. And if it’s posted, come on,” said Bradenton Traffic Sgt. Brian Thiers.

For Wandall, the week isn’t necessarily about tickets.

“It’s about what can happen in a moment. It’s not about catching anybody running a red light,” she said. “It just about safety. It’s about bringing your loved ones home at the end of the night.”