Photo by Bette Day Stern

“Connecticut has a drunk driving problem.”

Those are the words of Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto in testifying before the legislature recently. And boy, is he right.

In 2020 our state ranked third in the nation in drunk driving deaths. And our lawmakers are not setting a very good example.

State Rep. Quentin Williams: We finally have the state police report on the January death of Middletown lawmaker Quentin Williams, who died in a wrong-way-driver head-on crash on Route 9 as he headed home from Gov. Ned Lamont’s inaugural ball. True, he was a victim of a drunk driver speeding on the wrong side of the highway. But he was also found to have twice the legal limit for alcohol in his blood stream… and THC.

State Rep. Robin Comey: In March this Branford lawmaker rolled her car near the State Capitol. Though uninjured, she failed a sobriety test and was arrested for DUI. A year ago Comey, obviously impaired, couldn’t speak coherently during a floor debate. Lawmakers were told to “stand at ease” and Comey was escorted from the hall by worried colleagues.

Tailgating: During the pandemic House Speaker Matt Ritter had to admonish lawmakers after reports that, during the long session (held virtually) some had been regularly ‘tailgating’ on the roof of the LOB parking lot. Drinking on the job is not why constituents sent them to Hartford, is it?

Nips: Nips are the small airline-style booze bottles. You’ll find many neighborhoods littered with dozens of empties, obviously tossed by drinkers, probably from their cars. Since last fall there’s been a five cent deposit collected on each nip with the money shared with towns where they’re sold, presumably to help pay for their clean-up. In the first year and a half since deposits began, some $6.6 million has been collected state-wide. According to my math, that represents 132 million nips that were sold. The biggest “winners” in nip deposit money were New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford.

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Open Container Law: Connecticut is one of only nine states that allow open containers of alcohol in moving vehicles. The “Vision Zero” bill (HB-917) currently under consideration would change that and also lower the threshold for DUI from .08% to .05% BAC.

Drinks to go: In another strange move the State House has voted 149-1 to allow continued sale of “cocktails to go” at restaurants and cafes… as if we don’t have enough impaired drivers already. That bill now moves to the State Senate, if we can get them away from their tailgating party on the roof.

Psilocybin mushrooms: As with medicinal marijuana, there are legitimate medical reasons for using ‘shrooms. But another bill before the legislature would decriminalize possession up to a half ounce of mushrooms to just a $150 fine. Opponents say, as with marijuana, this is just another step toward full legalization.

Even before the pandemic our state had a drinking problem. Today it’s even worse as people anesthetize themselves with drink and drugs. And you wonder why we have a mental health crisis?

Do as you wish to your own body in your own home. But when you put yourself behind the wheel in an impaired state, be you drunk, drugged or just drowsy, you’re endangering the lives of others.

Maybe this year our lawmakers will stay sober long enough to do the right thing and penalize those who act so recklessly.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at the Commuter Action Group.