Highway safety measures sought in Connecticut

| Friday, March 30, 2007

Two efforts in the Connecticut General Assembly are intended to make the state’s roadways a little safer.

The Joint Committee on Transportation voted 32-2 to forward a bill that would prohibit open containers of alcohol in vehicles to the judiciary committee. It also would free up millions in federal dollars for improving roads.

Under Connecticut law, drivers are prohibited from having an open alcoholic beverage, but passengers 21 years of age or older are free to drink while in the vehicle. The bill – SB273 – would eliminate the open container provision. Violators would face up to $500 fines.

It includes exceptions for passengers in RVs, buses and limousines.

The bill also would allow the state more freedom for how to use federal highway dollars. The state is being forced to spend a portion of its federal funding on traffic safety because the state doesn’t have a ban on open containers of alcohol in vehicles.

The state is one of only about a dozen nationwide that allow passengers to have open containers; last year, that distinction forced state officials to pull 3 percent out of the highway construction budget and put it to other uses.

The federal government mandated in 2001 that states pass the provision or spend a percentage of federal highway dollars on public safety projects such as drunken driving checkpoints and installing cables in medians to prevent crossover accidents.

Another bill to put elderly drivers under more scrutiny, however, missed a deadline to advance.

Sponsored by Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, the bill – SB176 – would have required anyone 76 or older who has at least two wrecks in a calendar year to be retested by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Opponents said it is unfair to focus solely on older drivers. Supporters said protections need to be put in place now to head off problems in the future. They cite research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that shows adults 65 and older are the country’s fastest-growing demographic. By 2030, nearly 20 percent of drivers will be at least 65. Today, those drivers account for one in every eight drivers.

The effort can be brought back for consideration during the regular session that begins in January 2008.

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