A New Britain couple, seriously hurt in a cellphone-related car accident on Route 8 in Harwinton, received a $1.3 million settlement in November. The previous year, a jury awarded a Torrington woman $1.4 million after a driver, talking on his cellphone while turning, struck her head-on, breaking her wrist and causing permanent injuries to her neck and back. These are two of the largest awards or settlements to go to motorists injured in crashes since Connecticut’s ban on talking and texting on cellphones went into effect in 2005, and a recent change to court procedure may pave the way for more large settlements. Despite the large awards, the incidence of fatalities and injuries from motor vehicle accidents in the state has continued to rise in recent years, state data indicates. The total number of car crashes increased every year from 2011 to 2016– from 78,433 in 2011, to 116,117 last year — according to UCONN’s Connecticut Crash Data Repository, which contains data that the state Department of Transportation collects.
Connecticut had one of the highest rates in the nation of motor vehicle fatalities in which drivers were alcohol impaired in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available – 41 percent, compared to the national average of 31 percent, according to federal estimates. But the state also had one of the lowest rates nationally of reporting drunk-driving data in fatal accidents – a lapse that hampers efforts to gauge the impaired-driving problem and to develop and evaluate programs to address it, experts say. Connecticut reported blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) results for just 45 percent of fatally injured drivers — far lower than the national average of 71 percent, according to data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Only Mississippi reported a lower rate of such testing. Thirty-four states reported testing rates of more than 70 percent.
Doug Crocker knows a thing or two about driving. The 74-year-old former Hartford police officer and his wife have navigated the continental U.S. three times in their motor home. Even experienced drivers feel the effects of aging when behind the wheel. “It’s harder to turn around now to look for blind spots,” he said. “Backing up is a real issue too,” especially when he drives the Jeep they tow along for in-town use.