5-year crusade concludes with red-light law

MANATEE — A new state law goes into effect today allowing municipalities to install and use cameras at intersections to ticket motorists running red lights.

“I feel very strongly it’s going to curb behaviors of red-light running. We’re going to save some lives,” said Melissa Wandall, who has been fighting for the law since her husband Mark was killed by a red-light runner in 2003 near their home at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and State Road 70.

“It means the promise I made to my husband the night of the crash came true. It means he didn’t die for nothing. The state of Florida helped me keep that promise.”

The law is named in his honor after Melissa Wandall led a campaign in hopes the cameras would save lives and serve as a deterrent for would-be red-light runners. Wandall was nine months pregnant at the time of the crash; her daughter was born a couple of weeks later.

As for the new law, drivers caught on camera running red lights will be fined $158 and have 30 days to pay the fine, said Bradenton Police Department Sgt. Brian Thiers.

If the fine isn’t paid within 30 days, it becomes a traffic citation in which drivers could have their driving privileges revoked. Motorists will be able to go to court to fight citations.

Many Florida communities, including Bradenton, were facing legal challenges after installing the cameras at busy intersections by creating ordinances to issue citations. Bradenton recently repealed its ordinance in order to follow the new law.

Prior to the new law, municipalities were dependent upon asking property owners for space to install cameras to avoid encroaching on public right of ways. The new law allows cameras to be installed on state-owned right of ways, Thiers said.

The Bradenton Herald set aside part of its property last August for the city’s first red-light camera at the intersection of Manatee Avenue and First Street.

The camera is one of four red-light cameras in the city.

There are plans to install six more cameras, Thiers said, but the locations may be re-examined to find intersections that are considered more dangerous, such as First Street and Sixth Avenue West.

“It’s all about safety and saving lives,” he said. “I think it will eventually change driving patterns. Time will tell.”

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