Editorial: Stiffer penalties needed to keep roads and highways safe — and people alive

It has been more than 100 years since New York became the first state to implement drunken driving laws and other states soon followed.

Since the 1970s, laws and penalties have been enhanced as pressure from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Destructive Decisions prompted more action from lawmakers.

But after all these years — and despite public education campaigns and jail time for offenders — the message is still not getting through to many drivers and people are dying needlessly on the roads.

Now, a highway safety advocacy group is calling for tougher driving laws in Connecticut as traffic deaths have been inching up in the Nutmeg state the last few years. They were at a high in 2016 — 311 — after a steady increase over the past few years — 248 in 2014, and 278 in 2015.

Traffic deaths dropped in Connecticut in from 2016 to 2017, to 284 fatalities, according to the UConn Crash Data Depository.

The spike in traffic deaths along with the number of escalating hit-and-runs have parents worried about their children crossing the street. Nearly 20 percent of the pedestrian-involved accidents in 2016 in Connecticut occurred during the months of January and February, UConn reported, with 83 percent happening during clear weather, and 62 percent during daytime hours.

More than 50 people were reportedly killed last year in pedestrian-involved motor vehicle crashes, according to the University of Connecticut’s Crash Data Repository — and another 1,400 people reported pedestrian-involved motor vehicle crashes to police.

Inconceivably, those numbers could be higher because if a person were taken from the scene of an accident and later dies of their injuries, there could be instances in which police departments may not be informed.

Connecticut isn’t the only state grappling with road woes. Traffic fatalities remain high in 46 other states.

More than 37,000 people died in U.S. road crashes in 2016. That’s a 5.6 percent increase from the previous year — and the highest they’ve been since 2008.

The group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety wants to cut down on the safety gaps that make the roads more dangerous.

In its report — the 2018 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws — it advocates for tougher laws that include making helmets mandatory for all motorcycle riders, tougher teen driving laws, and seat belt requirements for all passengers — not just those sitting in the front seats.

It estimated $4.9 billion in annual economic cost is lost due to motor vehicle crashes in Connecticut.

That is another number Connecticut cannot afford.

The report wasn’t all bad news for the state. Connecticut gets high marks for regulation of child car seats, which requires rear-facing for children under the age of 2.

But the state must start dishing out stiffer penalties to keep our roads and highways safe — and people alive.