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Stiffer Laws Proposed for Dangerous Drivers

The roads might become a little safer for pedestrians in Connecticut.

Proposed legislation seeks to remind cars and trucks they don’t own the road.

The General Assembly will consider SB 720, which would impose stiffer penalties on those drivers who harm “vulnerable” users in streets and cross walks. Simply put the legislation seeks to further protect anyone not encased inside a metal carapace otherwise known as a car or truck.

“If you watch traffic on a country road, you see that drivers think they have 100 percent right to that road. So I think that what this really does is get people’s attention,” said state Rep. John Hetherington, a Republican representing New Canaan and Wilton in the 125th House District and one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “It gets them to think twice when they’re out on the road.”

Under the bill, offenders would be required attend a driver re-education program. Offenders would also face a penalty up to $5,000 and/or 120 hours of community service. The impetus for the bill comes because some legislators and safe street advocates say current law doesn’t always address the serious nature of hitting, injuring or killing pedestrians.

In the past several years, crossing the Post Road in Westport.

Hetherington’s decision to co-sponsor the bill is rooted in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

“If you want to know what motivated me, it was reading about the Amish and how some make a game of seeing how close they can get to the buggies,” Hetherington said.

Fairfield County’s roads may lie several hundred miles away but there are similar problems, according to safe street advocates.

“In today’s hectic world, road rage and reckless driving are common occurrence,” Amy Stegall, president of Connecticut Horse Council, told the transportation committee earlier this year. “Unfortunately, motorists are sharing the road with pedestrians, bicyclists and equestrians, and when you have a collision, the car ‘always’ wins.”

Under current law, if a distracted driver hits someone in a cross walk the driver might only be cited with a failure to yield to pedestrian, according to the Connecticut Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board (CBPAB).

 Vulnerable users include pedestrians, bicyclists, equestrians, farmers, highway workers, emergency responders and persons in wheelchairs.

“While we hope that most motorists realize the power they control each time they get behind the wheel of their vehicles, your passage of this bill will at least provide some measure of protection for our other members of society who choose to “Share the Road,” said Anne Hayes, president of Bike Walk Connecticut.

The state’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, OFA predicts a possible revenue gain of about $75,000 a year if the bill passes.

“The likelihood of an estimated 25 offenders annually would be prosecuted and receive harsher penalties then under current law,” according to OFA.

If SB 720 passes it would enhance Connecticut’s participation in Complete Streets. In 2009 Connecticut became the 10th state to pass Complete Streets legislation, which mandates streets are designed for all users, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.

In addition, the proposal comes as the U.S. Congress considers additional highway safety measures. Some on the House Transportation Committee want all 50 states to pass Complete Streets or some version of it. This effort is designed in part to address an aging nation.

By 2029, one in four drivers will be 65 and older, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. That means more pedestrians, more wheelchairs, and more people with canes and walkers will compete with motor vehicles. 

Of course SB, 720 is designed to remind all that bicyclists, pedestrians and others have equal rights, Hetherington said.

As the weather warms more people will share the road with motor vehicles. Also more people are walking and biking outside to get health benefits. 

“Many of them have no place else to go but the roads,” Hetherington said.

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