WINDSOR, Connecticut — Connecticut motorists planning a high-speed run to Massachusetts or Vermont, be advised: State troopers all along Interstate 91 will be out in bigger-than-usual numbers this spring and summer.
The same warning applies to I-95 drivers, who can expect extra police in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
At a gathering with reporters Monday at the park-and-ride lot off on I-91, police from all six New England states stood behind Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as he announced the first-ever, regionwide crackdown on speeders and scofflaws.
Each state is committing to put more troopers along I-91 and I-95 — along with a few other key interstates — in a bid to prevent a rise in high-speed crashes as the weather gets warmer and traffic gets heavier.
“It’s no mystery speeding and lack of seat belt use are among the leading causes” in fatal or severe injury wrecks, Connecticut state police Col. Brian F. Meraviglia said.
“Going over the speed limit? Prepare to be stopped for it by a trooper,” Meraviglia said. “We say ‘drive as if your life depends on it,’ because it does.”
In 2012, 39 people were killed on Connecticut roads and highways in speeding-related crashes, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records. Across the region, 226 died that way in all six states.
Overall, one in every three people killed on the roads were involved in speeding related wrecks in 2012.
New England’s figures are remarkably low compared with other parts of the country. The region accounted for just 2 percent of the nationwide toll of 10,219 speeding related fatalities; Alabama and South Carolina were among the much less densely populated states that each posted a higher death count than all of New England. Despite its popular reputation for tough law enforcement, Texas suffered by far the highest death count connected to speeding: 1,247.
New England police commanders agreed they want to bring this region’s figures even lower.
“Unsafe driving can destroy not only vacations and holidays but lives,” Malloy said, backed by procession of troopers.
Police brought a traffic helicopter, a mobile traffic command center, a fleet of marked cruisers in the distinctively different livery of each state, a row of unmarked sedans and SUVs, and a Winnebago-sized roadside DUI-processing center.
Lt. Paul Vance of the Connecticut state police traffic unit said distracted driving is getting worse, and that his forces also will be looking to crack down on that with their aircraft, unmarked SUVs, spotters on highway overpasses and more. A speeding ticket in Connecticut doesn’t come cheap: Getting caught doing 76 to 80 mph on an interstate means a $259 fine, and that climbs to $299 for 81 to 85 mph. Anything over 85 mph is an automatic court appearance.
Lt. Daniel Griffin of the Massachusetts state police gave tours of his agency’s new mobile DUI-processing unit, which lets officers at a drunken driving checkpoint test, charge and process drunken drivers quickly. There are three Intoliyzer machines along with a series of work stations where troopers can prepare the arrest paperwork and get back on the street quickly.
Griffin is urging drivers to buckle up, stay within the speed limit, avoid texting or calling while driving, and beware of drug interactions. Since decriminalizing marijuana, Massachusetts has experienced a big uptick in impaired drivers who’ve been either smoking marijuana, or mixing it with prescription or nonprescription medications, he said.
“They’re impaired — that’s the definition,” Griffin said.
He said drivers from all economic backgrounds get arrested for driving under the influence, along with those from any profession or education level. Griffin warns that DUI is not an inexpensive charge: “You can expect to pay $8,000 to $10,000 in lawyer’s bills, administrative fees … no lawyer touches a DUI for much less than $5,000.”
After 29 years as a trooper, Griffin estimates he’s handled “hundreds” of severe impaired-driving and speeding crashes.
“You hope people are getting the message. But we’ve had nights going back to Framingham in this [high-profile DUI processing center] and nearly been hit by people coming the wrong way at us,” he said. “The most dangerous part of my job is driving home after.”
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