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Traffic school required for red-light runners

MANATEE — Motorists who roll past stop signs, breeze through red lights and pass stopped school buses will be taking a seat in driver’s ed thanks to a state law taking effect this month.

The law requires anyone who pleads no contest or receives a conviction for running a red light or stop sign, failing to stop for a stopped school bus with flashing lights, racing on highways or reckless driving to attend an approved driver improvement course.

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski disagrees with the new law, stating it places too much of a financial burden on residents cited.

“The state’s trying to make police tax collectors. Certainly, we want people to be safe drivers, but the point is the state is using the citation system as a revenue source rather than making it about traffic safety,” he said.

Radzilowski said sometimes tickets can translate to taking a large chunk of someone’s paycheck at a time when money is tight for many families.

Because of the financial implications, he said officers are reluctant to cite drivers in some cases unless it’s a serious traffic violation.

“We’re not against traffic school. We’re against all the costs piling up on the citizen,” he said.

The cost for running a red light, if cited, is $231. On several Web sites, courses ranged from $10 to $30 for basic driver improvement courses.

On average about eight to 15 red-light tickets are issued at the intersection of Manatee Avenue and U.S. 301 using a red-light camera in the city of Bradenton.

In the next couple of weeks, two more cameras will be installed — one for westbound traffic at Manatee Avenue and U.S. 301 and the other for eastbound traffic at Ninth Street East and Seventh Avenue East, said Bradenton Traffic Sgt. Brian Thiers.

Radzilowksi said only about $50 of the fine stays in the county.

Melissa Wandall, who lost her husband, Mark, nearly six years ago in a crash where a driver ran a red light, views the new law as a step in the right direction. She hopes drivers will take more responsibility when they get behind the wheel.

“If someone doesn’t want to be hit hard in the pocket, they shouldn’t run a red light because when you run a red light and you injure someone one, that’s way more than $231,” said Wandall, whose daughter was born just two weeks after Mark’s death. “This, to me, is about prevention. There’s nobody to feel sorry for. You’re giving someone a ticket so they don’t do it again, because it could have been a lot worse.”

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Chris Miller said the new requirement to attend traffic school might curtail aggressive and reckless driving habits.

“Our troopers are very conscientious of the way the economy is and they will tell you they hear that on the roadway,” Miller said. “Yeah, the fines are high, but we can’t stop issuing citations because of high fines.”

The cost of citations has increased dramatically over the last couple of years, Miller said.

“Knowing that, it’s an additional incentive to make good driving choices,” he said.