IN THE REGION — In 2017, East Lyme had more crashes per car traveling through Connecticut on I-95 than any other town east of New Haven. For every 146,619 cars that drove through East Lyme in 2017, there was one crash, bringing the total number of crashes to 177, according to data from the Connecticut Crash Repository hosted by the University of Connecticut.
Only two other towns in the region had such frequent car crashes – Groton at 172,711 cars per crash and Stonington at 167,319 cars per crash. Most rates are much lower, near or well above 300,000 cars traveling through per crash. In Clinton, the rate is one per 708,985.
“A lot of times accidents tend to happen because another accident did. One of the causes for an accident is another accident,” said Trooper Josue Dorelus, a member of the media Relations Unit in the Connecticut State Police. “Traffic is slowing and people are following too closely. The fact that it impacts other cars closely correlates with the number of accidents in one place.”
Many factors affect the likelihood of a crash–the number of on and off ramps, the weather and driver distraction.
“By and large on the highway system there are less dynamic movements than on secondary roads. They are called limited access highways for a reason,” said Kevin Nursick, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT). “Those questions about that section of road have been dealt with before, there is nothing there. It is not different from anywhere else.”
Nursick explained that individuals are often reluctant to accept blame for car crashes that they are involved in. That’s why most people will generally refer to them as accidents, instead of crashes, he said. They don’t want to confront the fact that it may be their fault.
“The media hasn’t been responsible in this regard, you always see reporters pointing out slippery conditions or turns in the road instead of what the driver was doing. This is an issue societally where nobody wants to take responsibility,” Nursick said. “Last I checked cars have steering wheels, it doesn’t drive itself.”
According to CTDOT, 95 percent of accidents are due to operator error. The primary causes are speeding, a failure to leave sufficient distance between vehicles and a failure to obey right-of-way laws. These often accompany distracted driving, Nursick said.
“Distracted driving has reached epidemic levels. Disengaged motorists have reached epidemic levels. Irresponsible driving has reached epidemic levels,” Nurisk said. “There is a wild west mentality that is out there on the road. We all see it every single day.”
This does not mean that CTDOT is not investing in the roads and infrastructure in order to make it as safe as possible. There have been projects to remove grassy median strips for better visibility, and guide rails are updated to the contemporary standards.. Each year CTDOT spends approximately $35 million on signs and sign supports.
“I think that part of the folklore is that when you are talking about highways in a state like Connecticut where you have congestion points at any given time, you can see those severe, nasty, rear-end type accidents at very high speeds,” Nursick said. “People coming along full speed and completely unaware of the slowed cars in front of them can cause catastrophic level incidents. That happens, that can happen. One could argue that if you relieve congestion that solves the problem to some extent, but it’s every time there is an incident.”
Although 95 percent of crashes may be due to operator error, crash data suggest that certain locations experience a significantly higher rate of crashes, even when ramps and traffic volume are factored in.
Stonington, for example, has three exit ramps and the second highest rate of crashes per vehicle of any town east of New Haven. Reviewing data from the past 23 years, Branford, East Lyme and Groton consistently have the most car accidents.
But whether it is the design of the road or distracted drivers or both, Nursick said the only place to look for a solution might be technology.
“A significant part of the problem has been technology, secondary to modern lifestyles that demand multi-tasking. What exactly is the government supposed to do about that?” Nursick said. “Ultimately, perhaps the solution to all of this is the autonomous vehicle because when we are counting on people to do the right thing it is not panning out very well.”