Photo illustration by Lily Smith

Some Iowa City drivers may get lights-out help from police


Iowa City police launch a program to help some drivers pay for burned-out vehicle lights.

By Sarah Watson

In Iowa City, drivers who are pulled over may not have to pay to replace burned-out lights on their vehicles under a new program sponsored by the Iowa City police.

B.U.L.B.S., Building Unity Linking Businesses for Safety, will pair 10 auto-repair shops and the Iowa City police to help community members who may not be able afford to replace their lights.

Launched on Oct. 10, B.U.L.B.S. allows officers to give out vouchers to drivers pulled over for an equipment violations. Then, the drivers can take the voucher to one of the 10 repair shops and receive free bulb replacements for headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, or license-plate lights.

Participating repair shops are Cermak Automotive, Dodge Street Tire & Auto, Iowa City Tire & Service, Linder Tire Services-Iowa City, Midas-Iowa City, Phil’s Repair, Skay Automotive, Tuffy-Iowa City, Spenler Tire Services, and Spenler Tire East.

The vouchers are handed out at an officer’s discretion. Lt. Denise Brotherton said the goal of the program, loosely based on a similar one in Minneapolis, is to make the streets safer and help people who are stuck in personal or financial hardship.

The vouchers are paid for by forfeiture funds, money acquired from criminal activities.

Brotherton said some University of Iowa students could see vouchers.

“It’s a need-basis,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to run into a student who is having problems … We leave it at officer discretion.”

Craig Ash, the manager of Tuffy, said approximately 50 percent of Tuffy’s customers are UI-affiliated.

“Even if somebody is in need and isn’t able to afford a fix, we still want them to be safe,” he said. “I think lights are a very big safety factor.”

When drivers are first pulled over, officers will generally give them warnings, Brotherton said. But officers can issue citations.

The costs for a citation can be anywhere from $87 to $100.50 including surcharge and court costs, according to a document from the police Office of Public Records.

This is in addition to paying for the bulb replacement, which can cost another $25 to $45, Ash said.

“It does get costly, but it’s also the aggravation of getting pulled over,” Brotherton said. “You keep getting pulled over as you’re trying to get to work, trying to get to school. You can barely afford to do those things, and now on top of it, until you get this light fixed, you’re going to keep getting pulled over. Now you’re angry before the officer even walks up to the car. That just breaks down the relationships, especially those people who need us the most.”

Currently, the UI police do not have any sort of program similar to the Iowa City program, UI Public Safety public-information officer Hayley Bruce said.

Mike Brown, the owner of Iowa City Tire and Service, said he is excited about participating in the new program.

“This is my 36th year in business, and I’ve seen a lot, but I’ve never heard of a program like that for the community that is coming from the police budget,” Brown said.

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