'Lights On Minnesota': New program gives drivers with taillights out a voucher, not a ticket

A new program will help drivers fix broken or out taillights instead of ticketing them.

When you're trying to balance your budget, you might end up waiting to make a minor car repair. When that problem results in a traffic ticket, it might be even harder to scrape money together for the repair.

A new program, launched by a Minneapolis non-profit, has some Twin Cities metro police departments not only cutting drivers a break, but also helping them make a repair.

"You can give them a citation, a lot of people are going to get a warning," said Courtney Miller of the Fridley Police Department.

Mechanical violations are a common reason police pull people over but those lights off are turning to lights on.

"Whether it’s a blinker or a headlight or a taillight, we can give them these vouchers," said Miller.

The Fridley Police Department has been part of "Lights On Minnesota" since September. They handed out 22 vouchers last month alone.

"We’ve gotten hugs and handshakes and just a general 'thank you,'" said Miller.

The way it works is simple: When participating police departments see a headlight, taillight, or brake light out, they make a traffic stop. But instead of a ticket, drivers get something much better: a voucher for a free fix.

"It changes the whole mood of what was a tense encounter there’s communication and sort of a celebration," said Don Samuels.

The program was the brainchild of former Minneapolis City Councilman Don Samuels. He wanted to do something after the death of Philando Castile -- who was told he had been pulled over for a brake light that was out.

"It became something we could do issue these vouchers to the community through police to heal and make a good thing come out of a bad crisis."

Lights On has grown since January from 19 police departments to over 60 in the state now taking part. They plan to eventually grow nationwide.

"Somedays, you’ll have four or five in one day," said Jeff Bahe who works for Bobby and Steve’s Auto World in Columbia Heights. "Sometimes, you won't have any in one day."

Bobby and Steve’s Auto World locations are some of the providers who do the fixes for free.

"They’re very happy it makes a difference getting that headlight fixed or maybe not getting groceries that week for them," added Bahe.

The Lights On program leaves it up to police departments to decide how to hand the vouchers out. While they are mostly given during traffic stops, if officers see lights out in a parking lot, or in another area, they can give them out to someone in need.