Too often, low-income individuals don’t have the disposable cash to have their vehicle’s safety lights repaired when headlights, taillights, license plate lights, or brake lights are broken or burned out. The result is unsafe vehicles on the road and opportunities for folks to be pulled over and ticketed for safety violations. Those tickets cost money (on top of repair costs) and could result in unpaid fines leading to suspended licenses or worse. In the City of Columbus, we have seen a disproportionate number of vehicle safety violations issued to residents in our most economically challenged neighborhoods and wanted to take a proactive approach to address the issue.
Offer free vehicle safety light repairs to low-income households. Through Project Taillight, individuals living in households with annual income less than 200% of the federal poverty line and needing safety light repairs can contact the City Attorney’s Office to schedule repair appointments with Columbus State Community College’s Automotive Technology Program. Project Taillight participants receive free light repairs, vehicle safety checks, and fluid top-offs (oil, coolant, etc.). We tested the model with 79 people and had overwhelming responses from participants, residents, and community leaders– all recognizing how a small setback, like an unpaid ticket, could upend families struggling to make ends meet and that a small investment in parts and labor could help overcome this challenge. We piloted the program through our local community college and plan to expand/scale the service through commercial auto repair shops and have an agreement from local law enforcement to give Project Taillight information to drivers in lieu of citations.