Connecticut lawmakers, shaken by the death of a colleague killed in a wrong-way crash earlier this year, unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that attempts to curtail the growing problem of wrong-way drivers.
The legislation calls for the installation of detection and notification systems on at least 120 high-risk highway exit ramps statewide. It also requires a new public education campaign to teach drivers how to reduce wrong-way incidents and handle an encounter with a wrong-way driver on the road.
“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 who have seen this dramatic increase,” said Democratic Rep. Roland Lemar, noting there were 13 wrong-way crashes in Connecticut in 2022, resulting in 23 fatalities. That was the most on record for the state.
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“I believe we have a bill before us that positions Connecticut to be proactive in addressing this issue,” the New Haven lawmaker said. Under the legislation, an alert system would set off flashing lights when a wrong-way driver is detected, notify police and broadcast the presence of a wrong-way driver on electronic message boards along the highway.
Middletown Democratic Rep. Quentin Williams, 39, died in the early morning hours of Jan. 5 as he returned home from Gov. Ned Lamont’s inaugural ball in Hartford. His car burst into flames after it was struck head-on by a wrong-way driver on a highway about 15 miles south of Hartford. The crash happened just hours after Williams was sworn in for a third term, shocking and saddening family, friends and colleagues.
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A state police report found both Williams and the wrong-way driver, who also died in the crash, were both over the legal limit for alcohol at the time.
Rep. Kathy Kennedy, a Republican from Milford, recalled a frightening personal story about coming across a wrong-way driver that kept following her headlights when she tried to avoid a head-on crash. Kennedy said people really need to pay more attention when they’re behind the wheel.
“We need to get to where we’re going and then we need to get back home,” she said “And we know in our own house here that that wasn’t the case this year.”
The bill passed the House of Representatives 151-0 after less than 15 minutes of debate. It now moves to the state Senate, where passage is also expected.