The House of Representatives approved a bill Wednesday expanding the state’s efforts to deter wrong-way drivers. The bill comes as lawmakers continue to grieve the loss of Quentin ‘Q’ Williams, who died in January after a wrong-way driver crashed into his vehicle on Route 9 in Cromwell. Williams, 39, was a state representative from Middletown.
The bill, which passed unanimously, would require the Department of Transportation to install alert systems for drivers and police in more locations. It now heads to the Senate.
The DOT would also need to start a public awareness campaign, including what drivers should do when they encounter wrong-way drivers.
“We need to alert drivers — we need to make the public aware of what their obligations and responsibilities are,” said Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven and co-chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee. “We need to help educate individuals about what to do when they confront a wrong-way driver.”
Citing the loss of his colleague, Lemar said it’s been a “difficult year for a lot of us.” After the vote, he acknowledged Williams’ death likely gave some lawmakers a new perspective on wrong-way crashes.
“I think a lot of people are hurting and a lot of people want to understand how this could have been prevented, not just for a friend of ours but also the state as a whole,” he said.
But Lemar also noted wrong-way crashes have been a growing problem in Connecticut.
There were 13 such crashes statewide last year, resulting in 22 deaths. That continued a trend of increases in recent years.
Other lawmakers shared their own experiences with wrong-way drivers. Rep. Bobby Gibson, D-Bloomfield, briefly talked about a friend who died after being struck by a wrong-way driver three years ago.
State Rep. Kathy Kennedy, R-Milford, told the chamber about encountering a driver who crossed the middle lane. When Kennedy, who had two children in the car, would cross into the other lane, the other car did the same.
“I just told them ‘brace yourselves, because I don’t know what’s going to happen,’” she said. Eventually, the car swerved off the road and onto a sidewalk, she said.
The bill would require the DOT to install “wrong-way driving detection and notification systems” for at least 120 highway exit ramps deemed “high risk.”
This builds off work the DOT has already been doing after the state approved $20 million in bonding last year to buy advanced systems.
“This doesn’t replace our STF, the other ongoing projects, not to mention the $6 billion from the feds,” House Speaker Matt Ritter said before the vote, adding the legislature will continue to look for improvements to roadway safety.
The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis said $20 million should be enough funding to install equipment for at least 120 ramps.
The DOT identified 236 “high-risk” ramps in a recent study. The detection systems use flashing lights to alert drivers if they’re entering a highway the wrong way.
The systems also notify the police and broadcast notices to other drivers using electronic signs along the highway.
The bill also tasks the DOT to install special rumble strips at on-ramps that only cause vibration and audible rumbles when someone crosses them the wrong way. It’s a measure used in other states.
Finally, the bill requires the DOT to launch a public awareness campaign to reduce incidents and to educate drivers about what to do if another vehicle is going the wrong way.