The striking increase in deadly wrong-way crashes on Connecticut’s roads is an awful tragedy, and lawmakers and the Department of Transportation should continue to take every step possible to ameliorate the danger. But these tragedies are a symptom of something much larger—a state so dependent on cars that horrific crashes are inevitable.
The surest solution to ending wrong-way crashes isn’t flashing lights at on-ramps. It’s understanding that the problem of traffic violence is systemic. We need to demand safer streets and rebuild a society where cars aren’t the only viable way to get around.
A total of 23 people died in wrong-way crashes in 2022, which was more than the number of fatalities in 2019, 2020 and 2021 combined. Incredibly, that data doesn’t factor in the shocking deaths of State Rep. Quentin Williams and Katie Mustafaj on January 5. But while the increase in wrong-way crashes is striking, it’s simply part of a larger story about Connecticut’s roads. On February 6, 2022, the Connecticut Mirror published a story highlighting how dangerous the state’s roads were in 2020 and 2021. Sadly, 2022 was even worse.
Between the 74 pedestrian deaths (a 34-year high) and hundreds of car crash fatalities, 2022 was the deadliest year for Connecticut’s roads in decades. And deaths are only part of the equation. The University of Connecticut’s Crash Data Repository reveals that in 2022 over 34,000 people suffered injuries as the result of a car crash. Thus, while the wrong-way crashes may be uniquely horrible and attention-grabbing, the crisis is much bigger.
Unfortunately, none of this is new. Carnage and crashes have been a problem since the automobile began to cannibalize all other forms of transportation in Connecticut in the 1910s and 1920s. For example, a May 1927 article in the Hartford Courant stated that “the first four months of this year brought more than a third as many fatal motor vehicle accidents in nine Connecticut municipalities as occurred within their boundaries in all of last year.” Only two weeks later, a July 5, 1927 article in theCourant titled “Auto Crashes Here Send 14 to Hospitals” reported on eight men, four women, and two children hospitalized as a result of July Fourth holiday traffic. There are countless such examples in the Courant’s archives, revealing that death and injury are a feature, not a bug, of car-based systems.
Sadly, Connecticut’s DOT doesn’t seem to understand. Commenting on the spate of wrong-way crashes, DOT Spokesperson Josh Morgan said “really the best way we can ensure that [people arrive safely] is that people are sober, slowing down and paying attention.” Obviously, personal responsibility is important, as 80% of the wrong-way cases involved an intoxicated or impaired driver. And while I don’t excuse these drivers at all, the DOT has built a state where everyone has to get around in a car, making driving under the influence a virtual guarantee. We should expect better from our state’s transportation “experts.”
In the short-term, we should absolutely take every action we can to reduce traffic fatalities, including the pilot program at on-ramps. But there’s so much more we could be doing. Safety advocate Kerri Ana Provost suggested gates for highway on and off-ramps, and our Congressional delegation could push the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to mandate smaller vehicles, breathalyzer car ignition systems, and speed governors (such as already exist for e-scooters).
At the state-level, the DOT and General Assembly could commit to funding free transit and making it a priority to install sidewalks and proven safety measures on all state-owned roads, as groups in Stamford and West Hartford have called for.
In the long-term, we need to begin addressing Connecticut’s land-use. As long as most families need two cars to get to their jobs, groceries, and appointments, traffic violence will continue to haunt us. Desegregate Connecticut’s 2023 “Work Live Ride” proposal calls for Transit-Oriented Communities, places where people could walk, bike, or take transit to the grocery store or restaurant. This is how we used to live, and it would put fewer cars on the roads and make all of us safer.
Many people seem to think that crashes are a necessary tradeoff for such a modern, efficient transportation system. First, I’d argue that our current system isn’t efficient at all, as it’s awful for the environment and burdens families and the state with heavy costs for car and road maintenance. But even if our current system was efficient, it’s impossible to justify hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries every year.
In a recent piece for CTnewsjunkie, Kerri Anna Provost wrote about traffic reports, stating that “what the traffic report does is spiritually deaden us to the frequent violence done by cars to human bodies on our roadways. The clichéd notion of “the headache for commuters” overshadows the real problems of the day: injury, loss of human life, the way that a victim’s loved ones are now in mourning.” We don’t have to accept traffic violence as a routine part of life. There are solutions, and we need to actually implement them. Contact your elected officials, join local safety groups, and demand that we build safer roads for everyone.
Thomas Broderick lives in Trumbull.