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Ideas to solve Connecticut's death on the roads problem

Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Hartford police officer Timothy Budwitz talks with a driver at an Asylum Avenue sobriety checkpoint on March 9, 2023. Forty-two such checkpoints are scheduled to be set up through the year.

Statistics compiled by the Connecticut Department of Transportation show that vehicle driver and passenger deaths in Connecticut crashes are up 41.5% over the last five years. Over that same span, pedestrian deaths from impacts with vehicles climbed 31%.

“2022 has been the deadliest year on our roadways in decades,” said DOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto.

How have we gotten here? A higher rate of impaired driving is one cause, according to Eric Jackson, director of the Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center.

“The last time I counted, we had over 181 different drugs found in people’s systems in fatal crashes in the last year,” Jackson said on All Things Considered. “What we’ve also seen is it seems the road rage and aggressive driving has increased exponentially.”

Jackson discussed a number of proposals in the works to make Connecticut roads safer. He supports a proposal in the General Assembly to lower the legal alcohol limit statewide from .08 to .05 and said he doesn’t believe that a .05 legal limit will punish drivers who had just two glasses of wine for dinner.

“An officer is not going to just be able to, you know, sniff you out on the roadway and pull you over,” Jackson said. “They have to notice that you’re driving in a manner that shows or suggests that you have some type of impairment.”

While police are experienced in testing to determine a driver’s alcohol impairment, that’s not the case for other substances like marijuana. With recreational marijuana sales now legal in Connecticut, the UConn Transportation Research Center has begun hosting “Green Labs” to help police better recognize the signs of a cannabis-impaired driver.

In the lab, officers observe 18 volunteers — six of whom consumed only cannabis, six of whom consumed only alcohol and six of whom consumed both. Officers receive training on noticing signs of impairment through observing factors like eye movements and motor skill proficiency.

“There is no roadside test where you can blow into a device, blow into an instrument and say, ‘Yes, you are impaired,’” Jackson said. “Because there is no legal limit.”

Finally, there’s the idea of using red light cameras to keep drivers from speeding through red lights and stop signs. Waterbury, New Haven and Hartford are considering these cameras. Jackson said he’s encouraged by a recent study done by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety that looked at red-light-running crash rates in large cities.

“These cameras reduced those crash rates by 21%,” Jackson said. “For fatal crashes at signalized intersections, it reduced those by 14%. So they are effective.”

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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