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Pulled over for a busted taillight? UW-Madison Police may give you a voucher instead of a ticket.

The group behind the project says its aim is to help police-community relations while making roads safer to drive

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(Kristian Knutsen/WisContext)

Some drivers pulled over by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department for minor equipment violations are getting certificates for repairs instead of citations.

The university’s police department said it’s the first in Wisconsin to partner with Lights On!, a national organization that helps law enforcement agencies distribute vouchers to drivers who are stopped for a busted headlight, taillight or turn signal.

The aim is to improve police-community relations while making roads safer for everyone, said Sherman Patterson, the group’s vice president.

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“Someone can get hurt or even killed with a blown headlight, taillight or turn signal especially at night,” Patterson said in an interview with WPR.

At the same time, the vouchers can help drivers avoid the downward economic spiral that can come with accruing fines and traffic violations.

“A lot of people can’t afford to get that light fixed,” Patterson said. “They’re making those hard decisions — whether to pay rent, mortgage or even child care.”

Each voucher is worth up to $250, and local repair shops can register to participate.

UWPD and Lights On! each contributed $3,700 to operate the program, according to a Lights On! spokesperson.

“A citation for these minor offenses can lead to further financial strain and will most likely lead to additional contacts with law enforcement,” UWPD Interim Chief Brent Plisch said in a statement. “This program gives officers a useful tool to engage with drivers and offer a helpful solution, rather than a ticket or fine.”

Lights On! first launched in Minnesota in 2017 after a police officer fatally shot Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop in suburban St. Paul.

Castile, who was Black, had allegedly been pulled over for a broken taillight.

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