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Drunk driving crashes increase in Connecticut for third straight year

December 31, 2018

Fatal drunk driving crashes increased for the third straight year in Connecticut in 2017 even as the number of overall fatal crashes decreased, a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

NHTSA said 120 of Connecticut’s 278 fatal crashes in 2017 were alcohol-related, or 43 percent.

Only the District of Columbia had a higher percentage.

Nationwide, drunk driving contributed to 29 percent of crashes — the lowest since 1982, when NHTSA started reporting alcohol data.

“I don’t know that we know specifically why these numbers are up in Connecticut relative to some other states,” said Amy Parmenter, spokeswoman for AAA of Greater Hartford.

She said Connecticut’s reporting, “which is very good compared to some other states,” could be skewing the data.

A low sample size also could explain the high percentage. While Connecticut has fewer than 300 fatal crashes annually, many other states see more than 1,000, while California, Texas and Florida each have more than 3,000.

Connecticut, known for its strong anti-drunk driving laws, has one of the lowest driving fatality rates in the country.

A recent report by bankrate.com ranked it the third worst state for driving. But high costs and poor road conditions drove the ranking — not safety.

Regardless, Parmenter said the NHTSA numbers are “disturbing” and disappointing in a state where local and state police, the Department of Transportation and groups like AAA routinely campaign against drunk driving.

Indeed, signs on highways across the state read, “over the limit, under arrest,” as part of a holiday-related, anti-drunk driving campaign.

“What we do and will continue to do is to drive the message home to the people who can really affect the change,” she said, listing drivers, passengers, bartenders and party hosts as examples. “This is an issue that everyone really needs to play a part in.”

Parmenter said AAA also is concerned about marijuana use, especially when combined with alcohol or other drugs.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Connecticut since 2012, and committees created by Gov.-elect Ned Lamont’s transition team have recommended legalizing it for recreational use.

“I don’t want to get into politics, but we already know from a previous AAA poll that young adults are using marijuana and getting behind the wheel at a rate even higher than those admitting to drunk driving,” Parmenter said.

“People have at least heard and should understand the message that it’s illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, but they haven’t really gotten the message about driving under the influence of marijuana,” she said. “You can’t drive under the influence of any drugs, whether legal or not.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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