Driving in Connecticut
Many drivers who live elsewhere think of Connecticut as a giant highway (or, some would argue, a parking lot) that they have to traverse on their way to someplace else. But this stereotype is far from the whole story of driving in the nation's third smallest state. Connecticut has 21,508 miles of roadways, ranging from Interstates to unpaved town roads, and a plethora of historic city streets. Picturesque village lanes await anyone who exits the monotony of the highway.
Connecticut is also home to some quirky moments in automotive history, like when Theodore Roosevelt became the first president to publicly ride in a car in Hartford in 1902, as well as some unexpected modern driving experiences, like being able to drive the race track at the storied Lime Rock Park. And despite having more public transportation options than residents of many other states, Nutmeggers still depend on their own cars to get almost everywhere. Good or bad, it's hard to separate Connecticut from the car.
Whether you're more likely to be found commuting in rush hour on I-95 or taking in the quiet scenic beauty of Route 169, here's what you need to know about driving in the Constitution State:
Auto Insurance in Connecticut
All drivers in Connecticut are required by law to have auto insurance. The minimum coverage requirements are:
- $20,000 per person per accident for bodily injury liability
- $40,000 per accident for bodily injury liability
- $10,000 per accident for property damage liability
- $20,000 per person/$40,000 per accident for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage
If you are found to be at fault in an accident, your bodily injury liability insurance will help cover the claims of other people who are injured, and your property damage liability insurance will help pay for damage to other people's property. Uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance helps cover your own medical bills or car repairs in case the other driver involved in the crash is not insured. Drivers are encouraged to purchase additional liability coverage beyond these required limits.
Though it's not required, drivers can also purchase collision coverage, which pays for damage your vehicle may sustain in a crash, as well as comprehensive coverage, which covers damage to your vehicle caused by extreme weather, vandalism, and other events.
Connecticut's Car Culture
Despite iconic 1950s film images of men in suits taking the train from Manhattan offices to suburban bedroom communities, most workers in Connecticut today commute by car. Even those who do take the train usually have to drive to the station, and most Connecticotians also need to drive to catch a ferry or a bus, or to meet up with colleagues for a carpool. And it's not just suburbanites who commute – people all over the state, from big cities to tiny towns, depend on personal vehicles to get to work.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that in 2013, 77.9 percent of Connecticut workers drove to work alone, while 8.3 percent carpooled and only 5.1 percent took public transportation. (Smaller numbers walked, biked, or worked from home.) Connecticut commuters' mean travel time to work was 24.4 minutes, almost the same as the nationwide mean of 24.7. But because Connecticut's population is not evenly distributed, you'll feel the pain of rush hour far more in Fairfield County than in Windham County.
And if you're stuck in Connecticut traffic, it's not just the commuters' fault; in most towns, cars are also required to get to the grocery store, the high school, the park, and pretty much everywhere else.
Your Mileage May Vary
The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration reported that Connecticut residents drove an average of 11,595 miles in 2014. To put that in local perspective, it's like driving a loop around the perimeter of the state from Thompson to Stonington to Greenwich to North Canaan and back to Thompson, 32 times. Connecticut's 2014 mileage was less than the nationwide average that year – 14,425 miles – but similar to other relatively small and urbanized northeastern neighbors Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey.
Urban vs. Rural Roads
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, Connecticut's urban roads are far deadlier than its rural ones. In 2015, out of 266 traffic fatalities in the state, 217 or 82 percent were the result of crashes on urban roads, 17 percent on rural roads, and 1 percent in unknown locations.
While this is a good reminder to be alert and cautious in urban areas, it doesn't mean that more remote byways are perfectly safe. In 2013, the percentages of rural and urban traffic fatalities in Connecticut were almost equal, and one study got headlines when it named Connecticut's rural roads the deadliest in the nation, based on fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled.
Many factors, including location, driver behavior, and road conditions, contribute to the relative safety of a route. While accident and fatality numbers may fluctuate, drivers can always make an effort to drive more safely on any type of road.
The Price of Gas
As of early September 2017, the average gas price in Connecticut was around $2.87. How much you'll actually pay, however, depends on where in the state you're fueling up. Prices were generally higher in Fairfield County and the eastern third of the state, and slightly lower in Central Connecticut and the Litchfield Hills. Compared to national average of $2.67, Connecticut's gas prices seem even higher; then again, there are (as of the writing of this article) no highway tolls in the Nutmeg State, making driving here cheaper than neighboring states in at least one respect.
No matter where you're driving, there are some simple habits you can adopt to spend less on gas. Even if you aren't able to simply drive less or buy a more fuel efficient vehicle, you can employ little tricks like rolling up your windows and finding a few alternate routes to work, all of which can add up to savings.
The Unemployment Rate
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecticut's unemployment rate was 5 percent in July of 2017. That's higher than the nationwide rate, and up slightly from the beginning of the year, but consistent with a pattern of steady improvement over the past seven years.
In a state as small as Connecticut, any job losses or gains feel significant. And the unemployment rate can also affect local driving patterns. First, when more people are employed, more commuters take to the roads, creating more traffic. Second, higher employment rates lead to additional disposable income. And that extra cash means people have the ability to purchase new vehicles, buy more gas for longer trips, and spend more time and money driving to South Norwalk's restaurants, Hartford's theaters, Danbury's mall, Putnam's antique stores, and so on.
Of course, employment numbers in every state vary by region and by town, and Connecticut is no exception. Waterbury's July unemployment rate was 7.7 percent, while Canaan's was 2.9 percent, and Union and Glastonbury both came in at 3.5 percent. That's proof that heavy traffic isn't necessarily tied to high employment numbers; still, it's worth keeping an eye on the unemployment rate and what impact it may be having on road conditions where you live.
Distracted driving is usually associated with cell phones, but the term can also apply to eating, smoking, interacting with passengers in the back seat, or anything else you do while driving that might distract you.
Connecticut defines three types of such distraction: visual (takes your eyes off the road in front of you), manual (takes your hands off the steering wheel), and cognitive (takes your attention away from driving.) All are illegal in the state. More specifically, the use of any hand-held mobile electronic device is prohibited for all drivers, with exceptions for emergencies, and drivers under 18 may not use any mobile device, even with hands-free accessories.
Talking and texting on cellphones has been banned in Connecticut since 2005. Since 2013, penalties for distracted driving are $150 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense, and $500 for a third offense. In addition, anyone convicted of distracted driving receives one point on their license.
Teen Drivers in Connecticut
New drivers age 16 or 17 must obtain a learner's permit before taking the road test to apply for a driver's license. To get a learners permit, applicants must pass a vision test and a knowledge test, based on information in the Connecticut Driver's Manual and administered at select Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) locations. They are then free to begin classroom training (hours required vary based on whether students choose a commercial driving school, classes offered through their high school, or home training) and accumulate 40 hours of practice driving. After 120 to 180 days of studying with a learner's permit (depending on which type of training you choose), you can take the road test and apply for a license.
New drivers 18 or older also need a learner's permit before applying for a license, but requirements are different; you'll only need to wait 90 days before taking your road test, and fewer hours of classroom study and practice driving are needed. There are exceptions to all of these rules, so check with the Connecticut DMV about your specific situation.
Restrictions for 16-year-old and 17-year-old drivers operating a vehicle with either a learner's permit or a driver's license include a ban on all cellphones and other mobile electronic devices, handheld or hands-free; stricter seat belt laws for passengers; a curfew, with certain exceptions; and limits on who is allowed to be in the car with the driver.
If your child is about to get their permit or license, the Connecticut DMV provides a list of resources for parents of teens and a Teen-Parent Driver Agreement. You might also be interested in ways to monitor teenage drivers when you aren't with them in the car.
The State of Driving in Connecticut
Connecticut's busy highways give the state a bad driving reputation, and its more populated areas can feel like a non-stop traffic jam. But its historic scenic routes, winding through small towns and rural landscapes, are some of the region's best kept secrets. Plus, there's so much to see and do in all parts of this little state, from its ever-evolving urban centers to its remote mountains and forests, that drivers will always have a reason to get out on the road. If you frequently navigate the Merritt Parkway, the Post Road, or the Berlin Turnpike, being informed about local rules and regulations will help you stay safe while driving in the Constitution State.