A crosswalk in Simsbury Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Studies of automated traffic enforcement methods, a new helmet requirement for motorcycle users and changes to Connecticut’s open alcohol container rules were among the legislative policy recommendations approved last week by the state Vision Zero Council. 

The interagency panel on reducing traffic-related deaths and injuries passed a series of recommendations during a virtual meeting last week related to infrastructure engineering, enforcement and education. The group planned to adopt additional recommendations on equity at a later date.

The policy proposals come as Connecticut nears the end of an especially dangerous year for pedestrians and cyclists, who have been struck and killed at an alarming rate throughout 2022. As of Dec. 5, 354 people had died in traffic related incidents around the state.

“It’s a stark reminder of how many people will not be able to spend the holiday with their family this year,” Garrett Eucalitto, a Transportation Department deputy commissioner who chairs the panel, said during last week’s meeting. 

Among other things, the group plans to recommend lawmakers adopt a policy requiring towns to adopt a “complete streets” plan to consider multiple modes of transportation in order to compete for state grants to fund those infrastructure projects. 

The panel also voted to recommend new traffic enforcement policies including a requirement that motorcycle users wear helmets on Connecticut roads as other nearby states have done. During the meeting, State Police Sgt. Mark DiCocco said between 36 and 41 unhelmeted motorcycle operators and passengers die each year in the state. 

“Over the past five years, unfortunately, Connecticut has seen roughly 190 fatalities which can be directly correlated to not wearing a helmet,” DiCocco said. 

The group also recommended the legislature make a long-sought change to the state’s open container law. Connecticut is one of few states that permits passengers to consume alcohol while in an operational vehicle.

“Drinking while driving in Connecticut is a Class C misdemeanor, unlike the other states, there is no statute that prohibits simply having the open container of alcohol in a vehicle or passengers’ consumption of alcohol while in a vehicle in operation,” DiCocco said. 

The policy frequently comes before the state legislature but has failed to gain adequate support, in part because some lawmakers do not wish to pass policies likely to increase police interaction with drivers. 

Meanwhile, the panel recommended that the state legislature study best practices from the 18 states that have adopted speed enforcement cameras and 22 states that use red light enforcement cameras, then advance legislation allowing those enforcement tools in particularly dangerous areas. The legislature previously authorized a pilot program testing speed cameras near highway work zones, which is expected to launch next year. 

In an interview earlier this month, Rep. Roland Lemar, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he planned to revisit the issue of enforcement cameras in the coming session with an eye towards adopting broader pilot programs to test them out. 

Another policy backed by the Vision Zero Council last week would require more opportunities for retraining drivers throughout their lifetimes. The panel made recommendations to both require and incentivize driver education beyond the current training required to obtain a drivers license.

“We test drivers once at the onset and nothing after,” Eric Scoville, a spokesperson for the Education Department, said during the meeting. “This would not be optional but would be required, especially for those who have been driving for 40 to 50 years.”

Eucalitto, who is expected to become commissioner of the Transportation Department next year as a result of a nomination by Gov. Ned Lamont, said that not all of the council’s recommendations would be heeded by lawmakers next year. 

“I know some of these are going to be contentious and the legislature may not take them all up but I think we all, by voting on them today, think it’s worthy of a discussion in the legislature next session,” Eucalitto said.