The House of Representatives, a chamber that lost a colleague in January to an accident blamed on a wrong-way driver, voted unanimously Wednesday to mandate expanded wrong-way countermeasures on Connecticut highways.
House Bill 6746, the measure passed and sent to the Senate, would require the Department of Transportation to build on efforts underway since 2020 to identity high-risk exit ramps and provide detection and warning systems.
“This has been a difficult year for a lot of us,” said Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, who explained the bill as co-chair of the Transportation Committee.
Rep. Quentin “Q” Williams, D-Middletown, was killed in a collision with a wrong-way driver on Route 9 returning home after a day celebrating the opening of the 2023 legislative session and the governor’s inaugural ball.
Both the driver blamed for the crash and Williams were legally drunk and had traces of THC in their blood, common threads in wrong-way crashes that have been increasing, despite the efforts of the DOT.
Williams’ desk sits in the well of the House as a memorial.
Last year, there were 23 fatalities in 13 wrong-way crashes, the deadliest year in recent memory, DOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto told lawmakers at a public hearing. Most occurred between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Wrong-way accidents are 100 times more likely to result in a fatality, Lemar said.
The DOT has assessed 700 highway exit ramps, considering risk factors such as previous accidents, close proximity of multiple off-ramps, poor lighting and the presence of bars and restaurants serving alcohol.
The result is a list of 236 locations identified as high-risk for wrong way driving. Sixteen were chosen for a pilot program that will provide 360-degree cameras that will detect wrong-way vehicles and activate flashing warning signs.
Eventually, the warning systems will alert the state police in real time.
Rep. Kathy Kennedy of Milford, the ranking House Republican on the Transportation Committee, described her own close call with a wrong-way driver and complimented the DOT for its efforts.
“I thank them for that. I don’t think there’s much more to say,” she said.
Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-Wilton, supported the bill but complained that, under current law, a police officer cannot pull over a car if observing a passenger smoking marijuana.
“That makes zero sense,” he said.
The legislature authorized $1 million in bonds in 2020 for warning lights, then another $20 million last year.
The bill passed Wednesday requires detection and warning systems on at least 120 ramps, plus rumble strips causing a car to shudder when going the wrong direction, and a public awareness campaign.