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Less traffic, more accidents: Why Connecticut car crashes increased during the pandemic

I-95 in Connecticut highway traffic
I-95 in Connecticut

Fatal car crashes in Connecticut have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite fewer vehicles being on the road. Experts say people are driving faster and under the influence of alcohol and drugs more than before.

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s Katy Golvala to discuss her article, “Connecticut’s roads are deadlier than ever. Figuring out why is complicated,” as part of the collaborative podcast, Long Story Short.

WSHU: You write that fatalities on Connecticut’s highways have increased by 33% in the past couple of years, but why traffic deaths increased in the wake of pandemic lockdowns is still a mystery. Why is it still a mystery?

KG: That’s right. So basically safety experts, traffic experts, public health experts, are still trying to figure out exactly what happened. So as you said, in 2020, traffic dropped, so there were less cars on the road. But then as researchers were getting in the numbers for the year in terms of fatalities, they weren't seeing a drop in fatalities, so it was as if traffic never dropped. In fact, fatalities increased in 2020 over 2019 and we are actually continuing to see the same trend in 2021.

WSHU: So basically what has happened since the pandemic is drivers are becoming more reckless?

KG: Yeah, basically. So we as a society are driving faster and we’re also driving more intoxicated.

WSHU: What are authorities trying to do about this?

KG: One thing that people are trying to address is police staffing. The Connecticut Department of Transportation has created a Vision Zero Counsel, so it is a cross agency collaboration to basically figure out how to get to zero fatalities on the roadways. And they are exploring engineering improvements like lighting and installation underlying changes in the roadways that would make people drive slower.

WSHU: Have you spoken with any families that have experienced a loved one being lost because of this situation that we have on our roads?

KG: I actually did have the opportunity to speak with a family member of someone who passed away. Shanea Leary and her daughter Jordyn Leary passed away in an accident along with Shanea’s friend Nicole Gibson in April of 2021 and I had the opportunity to speak with Shanea’s brother Lemontrel Leary. What came through from that interview was that this was a life cut short. I think that is something that can be forgotten when we are just focusing on the numbers, but each one of these numbers, each one of these increases in traffic fatalities, is a life cut short.

WSHU: So the bottom line is that it's complicated.

KG: Absolutely.

WSHU: There isn't a simple solution that will solve this. However, the state seems to be doing some work on it.

KG: It's definitely on their radar. We spoke with Garrett Eucalitto who is the deputy commissioner of the department of transportation and he personally is very passionate about what is going on, and it just seems like it is absolutely a priority for them. This has been raised to the level of the federal government, so the Federal Highway Authority is basically increasing funding to improve the safety of roads at the federal as well.

Katy Golvala is an investigative researcher with the CT Mirror. Her article is titled “Connecticut’s roads are deadlier than ever. Figuring out why is complicated.” Long Story Short comes from WSHU Public Radio and the CT Mirror.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.
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