Connecticut Highways Among Nation’s Safest

Morning traffic on I84 westbound in East Hartford.
Morning traffic on I84 westbound in East Hartford. Photo by Peter Morenus

Connecticut has one of the lowest highway fatality rates – deaths per 100 million miles driven – in the nation and, according to data analyzed by two UConn economics professors, if the state remains richer and older than other states, its highway safety could well continue to improve.

“Our results suggest that we (Connecticut) should 1) try to stay relatively well off; 2) not try to become a younger state; and 3) continue to adopt good highway safety policies,” say the authors of the report, Art Wright and Subhash Ray of the Department of Economics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, somewhat tongue in cheek. Their report appears in the latest edition of The Connecticut Economy: A University of Connecticut Quarterly Review, which was released Monday.

The professors’ research contained some surprises – significant snowfall is associated with a lower, not a higher, rate of fatalities in a given state; and stronger seatbelt laws, while doubtless helping to decrease the number of fatalities, did not have as strong an effect on fatality rates as the two had expected. Other findings were anything but surprising: states with more stringent drunk driving policies had lower fatality rates, while states with a larger number of residents 24 years old or younger had higher fatality rates. Overall, their regression analysis explained nearly 85 percent of the variation in highway safety rates among the contiguous 48 states.

Nationally, the traffic-related death rate in the United States has decreased for years, recently hitting a 61-year low. But what intrigued Wright and Ray was a precipitous drop in the rate of fatalities in Connecticut and the rest of the Northeast from 1985 to 2009, the latest data available. The authors note that the latest statistics indicate an 18 percent increase in the number of highway fatalities in New England last year. Whether that will translate to an increase in fatality rates depends on whether total miles traveled also increased, says Wright, an emeritus professor. In 2009, there were 0.71 deaths on Connecticut roads per 100 million miles traveled, a number that was bettered only by the 0.61 per 100 million miles in Massachusetts. The national rate in 2009 was 1.14 deaths, down from 2.47 for 1985.

“Massachusetts has had a reputation for anarchy on the highways, but it turns out there may be a lot of fender-benders but not a high death rate,” says Wright. “Rhode Islanders do all the same things as Massachusetts drivers but at a higher rate of speed. Still, Rhode Island did fairly well, too (1.01 fatalities per 100 million miles),” he says, adding that “we Connecticut drivers are far from perfect.”

Ray and Wright’s results found real per capita income to be strongly associated with low highway fatality rates, one reason the Northeast does well – virtually every state in New England as well as New York and New Jersey scored well. Wright theorizes that the income variable is also associated with higher education attainment, which he says is “a good predictor of success” in many cases.

Also in the latest edition of the Quarterly, executive editor Steven Lanza takes a look at the state income tax, adopted 20 years ago and revamped this year by Gov. Dannel Malloy and state lawmakers to balance the budget. The changes to the tax code “virtually ensured that the income tax [as a share of general revenue] will rise,” Lanza says. Yet in an analysis of the levy, Lanza shows that while the tax is progressive, it does not explain why Fairfield County residents pay the state’s largest share of taxes; neither can the tax be blamed for having derailed economic development in the state.

Also in this issue, a guest commentary by Alissa K. DeJonge, director of research at the Connecticut Economic Resource Center Inc., discusses initiatives to boost Connecticut’s competitiveness.