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    Tuesday, August 09, 2022

    About time Connecticut addresses wrong-way driving

    Gov. Ned Lamont announced late last month the state would spend $20 million to install at a number of locations devices aimed at curbing motor vehicle accidents caused by wrong-way drivers. To this we say, thank goodness and it’s about time.

    This news is more than welcome given the increasing number of wrong-way accidents, many of which are fatal. The money will be used to install a special lighting system on wrong-way signs on interstate exit ramps. When a wrong-way driver is detected, the lights will flash in an effort to alert drivers of their mistake.

    The statistics associated with wrong-way driving accidents are grim. In the first seven months of 2022 alone, Connecticut had a record 11 wrong-way driving accidents that killed 20 individuals. One such fatal accident tragically occurred just days before the governor’s announcement, when a woman and child were killed in Bridgeport.

    Southeastern Connecticut has unfortunately also had its share of wrong-way accidents. Over a 14-month period that began in 2019, for example, seven people died in Stonington as the result of wrong-way drivers on Interstate 95. Others have died in wrong-way crashes in North Stonington, Haddam and other local locations.

    The state’s trend mirrors what’s happening nationally as drivers seem to be emerging from the pandemic with less regard for following speed limits or other long-established rules of the road, at the same time as they also appear more likely to be driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs. In March 2021, the AAA Foundation that’s part of the century-old automotive-focused group, announced that between 2015 and 2018, an average of 500 people annually died as the result of wrong-way driving. That number was up 34% from the previous annual average of 375 deaths that occurred between 2010 and 2014.

    The biggest single factor contributing to wrong-way driving crashes is alcohol impairment. Connecticut officials said some 80% of such accidents in the state involved drivers who were impaired by alcohol or other substances.

    Impairment alone is not the only risk. AAA information shows older drivers also are more at risk of entering highways in the wrong direction, as are those who have no passengers accompanying them.

    Connecticut’s efforts to curb these deadly crashes are much needed. Unfortunately, however, just one of the light systems will be installed in southeastern Connecticut - on one of the Exit 90 ramps to I-95.

    We urge state officials to do much more to end, or at least reduce, these tragic accidents that have claimed so many lives. The technology exists, for example, for these lighting systems to also might immediately notify local law enforcement when triggered.

    Beyond lights, there also are other measures that can be taken. We agree with AAA, for example, in urging that alcohol ignition interlock devices be mandated for drivers who are convicted of driving while impaired. These devices prevent the car from starting until the driver provides a breath sample the registers below a specific limit.

    Finally, we encourage officials to target more interchanges in southeastern Connecticut for installation of wrong-way driving deterrent devices. Increasing numbers of accidents, along with more impaired and frustrated drivers, makes the need all the more urgent.

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