Lawmakers pass wrong-way driving bill after colleague killed in crash

Four months after their colleague was killed in a fiery crash, the Connecticut House of Representatives unanimously voted to expand efforts to catch wrong-way drivers on Wednesday.

John Craven

May 17, 2023, 10:43 PM

Updated 366 days ago


Four months after their colleague was killed in a fiery crash, the Connecticut House of Representatives unanimously voted to expand efforts to catch wrong-way drivers on Wednesday.
For lawmakers, the issue hits home.
“This has been a difficult year for a lot of us, and it's been a difficult year for a lot of Connecticut families across our state,” said state Rep. Roland Lemar (D- New Haven), co-chair of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee.
The epidemic was thrust to the forefront just hours into the 2023 legislative session, when a wrong-way driver fatally struck state Rep. Quentin “Q” Williams as he was driving home from Gov. Ned Lamont’s inaugural ball.
A crash report concluded the other motorist caused the deadly collision, but also revealed that both drivers were legally drunk.
Williams’ death is part of a growing, and deadly, trend. According to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, 23 people died in wrong-way crashes last year.
The legislation aims to catch wrong-way drivers before they hurt someone else. Right now, only nine highway on-ramps can detect motorists going the wrong direction, with 61 more locations planned by the end of 2023. The bill expands the number to at least 120 intersections.
At those locations, cameras could notify police – and overhead signs would warn other drivers minutes ahead of time. DOT would also add rumble strips to alert motorists they’re going the wrong way.
“I don't know if anyone's ever been in that type of situation,” said state Rep. Kathy Kennedy (R-Milford). “I actually was several years ago, where a car was coming literally straight at me.”
The wrong-way legislation now heads to the Connecticut Senate, where it’s expected to easily pass.
The state recently launched a graphic new ad campaign called “One Wrong Move,” featuring a wrong-way driver weaving through traffic before slamming head-on into another car.
In addition, DOT has installed bright red warning reflectors at dangerous on-ramps, including I-84 in Southington.
Two other highway safety bills appear unlikely to pass this year. One would lower the legal blood alcohol level from .08 to .05. Right now, only one other state – Utah – is that low.
“I don't think it'll pass,” state House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) said on Wednesday. “We haven't talked about it. I think it was a conversation starter.”
But supporters aren’t giving up. Lemar and DOT officials are planning a public push for the legislation Thursday morning at the State Capitol.
Also in limbo? A bill letting cities and towns install automated speed and red-light cameras. Drivers would get a ticket for going 10 miles over the speed limit. Each camera would have a warning sign 100 feet ahead.
Cameras would only be allowed in school zones or areas with high crash rates. Still, many lawmakers have concerns about targeting minority drivers.
“If they're predominantly located in a certain area that's likely to have a disproportionate impact on certain groups of people,” said state Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford), the House Democratic leader.
Automated cameras are common in New York City and Washington D.C., where they have dramatically lowered speeding and accident rates. But they remain unpopular with many drivers. After a public backlash, New Jersey dropped a camera program in 2014.
Some automated speed cameras are already in place. Last month, DOT launched a pilot program in highway work zones, including I-95 in East Norwalk.

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