(WTNH) – A new generation of dangerous drivers emerged during the pandemic, taking advantage of open roadways. A News 8 investigation shows they aren’t slowing down and enforcement, particularly on local roads, has declined dramatically since the pandemic began.
News 8 examined alarming new data as experts weigh in on the future of road enforcement.
The numbers aren’t good. A map shows deadly crashes since 2020 with most happening on Connecticut highways. A second map shows deadly crashes in the years prior to the pandemic, which shows there weren’t as many.
Connecticut’s highways have been less congested because of the pandemic, but more crashes and deaths have been reported in 2020 and 2021.
Our roads are now deadlier than they’ve ever been and there are fewer police and less enforcement on Connecticut roadways.
“We are seeing a record number of fatalities over the past few months and over the past few years,” said Dr. Eric Jackson, Executive Director for the Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center.
Reckless driving is a norm now, especially on highways. Cameras have caught numerous vehicles weaving in and out of lanes and causing horrific accidents. In an average year, the state witnesses 300 deadly crashes.
After hitting a 50-year low in 2011, they’re going back up. This year, Connecticut is on track to have 400 deadly crashes, which would be the highest since 1989 before the government enacted airbag and seatbelt laws.
Experts say speeding is the biggest factor in the rise in traffic fatalities.
“Vehicles in 85 miles per hour range has increased by a factor of five in some areas, so a lot of people are traveling close to 90 [miles per hour] at any period of time,” Dr. Jackson said.
“Yes, the message should be people, slow down, people are dying, the roadways are deadly,” said Kenneth Barone, Associate Director of the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy for UConn. “We got to get more police out there stopping cars who are driving recklessly and the public needs to see a police presence. They need to see them on our highways.”
State police don’t have the resources. According to state police, troopers have decreased by 30 percent since 2019. State police did not respond to News 8’s request for an interview, but Barone showed data on all traffic stops they did for the last three years.
State police stopped 50,000 cars for speeding in 2019 and 31,000 in 2020. Statewide, only 121,000 traffic citations were issued in 2021, which is down from the average of 400,000.
“We are on track this year, if our numbers hold to be under 100,000 citations, we dropped by three quarters. Citations have essentially just gone away,” Dr. Jackson said.
While state police enforcement during the pandemic also dropped dramatically, a News 8 review of traffic stops over the last three years shows that state police enforcement is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels while police departments are lagging behind.
“State police are now matching where they were in 2019. It’s the municipalities that are down, where we need help. In the 94 departments in the state, 7,000 police officers are municipal, we need them out there,” Barone said.
Municipal police have gone from 91,000 traffic stops in 2019 to 68,000 in 2021. There are stark contrasts between towns. In Shelton and Portland, traffic stops reduced by nearly 90 percent from 2019 to 2021.
News 8 asked the president of Connecticut’s Police Chief’s Association to assess the data.
“You have to prioritize right. Unfortunately, some of our cities are dealing with high violent crime. That takes precedence and you have to look at the geography of each city, how are the roads structured,” said Chief Patrick Ridenhour, Danbury Police Chief and President of the CT Police Chief’s Association.
Studies show narrower roadways can psychologically get drivers to slow down. Aggressive driving is a phenomenon that’s been a nationwide trend with fewer officers on the road.
Meanwhile, this new generation of dangerous and aggressive drivers needs to see that laws will be enforced, says an instructor at Chase 2 Driving School in Wethersfield.
“People are complacent. We live in a society, we need laws, we need rules, we need some type of enforcement,” said Vic Dias, an instructor at Chase 2 Driving School.
Dias is a strong believer in retesting every 10 years to retain licenses. He says speeding is contagious and young drivers eventually pick it up from experienced drivers.
The data is backing up the fact that the 21 to 30 age group is the problem. They are pulled over more than every other age bracket and that has been the case even before the pandemic.
Looking at traffic stops by gender, nearly twice the number of males are stopped every year, indicating men may be more prone to drive dangerously.
“If we can’t get driving behavior under control, we will have to look to other means besides law enforcement or officers sitting on the side of the road,” Dr. Jackson said.
With a lock of officers on the highway, part of the answer could be in automated enforcement.
The Department of Transportation will deploy speed cameras on our highways this fall as part of their pilot program that will be completed by the end of 2023. The results will be sent to the governor and any continuation or expansion of the program will be decided by the legislature.