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Date of Issue: March 15, 2007

Police to focus on red light running

Local police are concentrating efforts to curb motorists who see red and go ahead.

Island police departments are working with state and county law enforcement agencies to curb aggressive driving and red light running in the area, said Holmes Beach Lt. Dale Stephenson.

The campaign gets under way March 19 and continues through March 23. During that time, a task force of 20 police officers and sheriff's deputies will patrol roads focusing on enforcing laws against running red lights and aggressive driving.

"We're going to target 10 to 15 areas around the county," Stephenson said, though he didn't disclose the specific locations.

Officers will also focus on enforcing speed laws and the "Move Over" law that requires motorists to move over when they approach a traffic stop or crash scene.

About a year ago, area officers stepped up efforts to educate motorists on the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The sheriff's office reported last week that the number of alcohol-related fatalities in Manatee County decreased from fiscal 2004-05 to fiscal 2005-06 from 18 deaths to three deaths.

Still, 75 people died in traffic-related fatalities in Manatee County last year. The campaign next week is intended to reduce the number by educating motorists about the risks in running red lights and aggressive driving, said Sgt. Paul Fieber, of the sheriff's office. Aggressive driving usually involves a motorist violating several traffic laws at one time.

Partners in the effort include the sheriff's office, the state highway patrol, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Bradenton, Palmetto, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key police departments. The Stop Red Light Running Coalition of Florida also is involved.

Stephenson said Holmes Beach would dedicate two officers to the task force.

"Every now and then the county asks us to assist in traffic-related situations," he said, adding that about once a month the Holmes Beach Police Department helps with a checkpoint for drunk driving.

"Hopefully this might make more motorists think twice," Stephenson said, referring to the stepped-up enforcement.

The lieutenant noted that Holmes Beach officers closely watch the busy intersection at Manatee Avenue and East Bay Drive for red light violations. The addition several months ago of white lights to signal which motorists are facing a red light helps officers monitor the intersection.

"Since the white lights have gone up, we've written a lot of citations and warnings," Stephenson said.

While law enforcement officers pursue red light runners on the road, a campaign resumed last week in Tallahassee to catch red light runners on camera.

Florida state Rep. Ron Reagan, a Republican lawmaker representing portions of Manatee County, has filed the 2007 Uniform Traffic Control Act.

The measure, which at press time had not yet been assigned to a committee, would create the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program to be administered by the state motor vehicle department and provide counties and municipalities the authority to enforce traffic control signals using traffic infraction detectors such as cameras. The measure would also require an annual report on the effectiveness of cameras.

The program is named for a Manatee County man killed when a motorist ran a red light on State Road 70 on Oct. 24, 2003. Mark Wandall was 30 and he and his wife, Melissa, were expecting their first child. Madison Grace Wandall was born two weeks after her father died.

Reagan introduced a similar bill last year, but it did not pass.

Two recent studies, one conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety using data from Philadelphia and one from researchers at Old Dominion University in Virginia, show that cameras deter red light running.

In the insurance institute study, researchers tracked signal violation rates before and after an extension of yellow light time and again after the installation of cameras. After extending the length of time for yellow lights, violations fell by 36 percent. After the addition of cameras, violations fell by 96 percent.

In the Virginia study, researchers analyzed data from before the installation of cameras, during the operation of cameras and after cameras had been turned off. Violations more than tripled in the first year after the cameras were deactivated.