Civility, Drivers — And Solutions?

President Obama’s call for civility, the recent rash of vehicular homicides in Westport, and the overall experience of living here for most of his life prompted an “06880” reader to write:

Am I the only person in Westport concerned about the sudden escalation of deaths of pedestrians and bike riders in town?  What is the number in the past 2 years…5?  And 2 killed on the Post Road in just late 2010 alone.

This does not include the nearly killed — many by hit-and-run drivers.  An elderly woman I know was hit and left in a snowbank by the beach several years back.  The driver had to know they’d struck someone, but there was no caring demonstrated for someone else.

Would Westporters jump in like the heroes of Tucson to help?  I’d like to think most of us would.  So why not take action against vehicular mayhem? It’s not as dramatic, but eminently more avoidable.

Red lights are merely suggestions for many Westport drivers.

The other day a middle-aged gal ran the red light at Main and King’s Highway without stopping, forcing me to slam on my breaks.  When I flashed my lights she give me the finger.

When I was hit by a driver passing on my right where there was no lane as I was making a legal right turn a while back she shouted at me, “Oh great, now you’re going to make me miss my trainer at the gym.”  She then she berated the responding officer with, “I know lawyers, and you’re going to be sorry if you cite me.”  (PS:   She was charged as being singularly at fault.)

Then there is the guy who apparently intentionally tried to run over a friend and me as we talked in the street in Saugatuck because we were blocking his access to the curb, where it was clearly marked “NO PARKING.”  When I mentioned the sign he aggressively responded, “I pay $27,000 !@#$%^&* dollars a year in !@#$%^&* taxes in this !@#$%^&* town, and I can park any !@#$%^&* place I want to!”

Civility may be dead in large measure in Westport, but for the sake of our own protection we have got to get people galvanized into at least being aware that they are driving cars outweighing rhinos at speeds that would give a cheetah a nosebleed.  We blithely talk about cars being lethal weapons in the abstract; here in town they are becoming just that.

It’s time for residents to form a committee and make recommendations; the first selectman to acknowledge the problem and have the Traffic Safety Commission do something, and for the Westport Police to get a game plan that ameliorates the problem.

Realistic solutions?  Or is this an unsolvable problem?  Click “Comments”; add your thoughts.

48 responses to “Civility, Drivers — And Solutions?

  1. I moved here four years ago from the DC metro area, and while drivers there are, at times, inept and a bit crazy, I was absolutely appalled by Westport drivers. With a friend, I met Gordon Joseloff and other town officials to see if we could resurrect “TAME,” a citizens group whose sole responsibility is to advocate for safe, non-aggressive driving in Westport. I followed up with a second meeting, only to find it being completely dominated by one member who had a “My way or the highway” attitude…. So I dropped out. Discouraged, I have lived with the frustration of driving and walking the streets of Westport, sometimes in fear, even. Now! I have a son who is about to get his learner’s permit. Yikes!

    I still think we should form a group of enaged, caring citizens to create a safe driving campaign, soliciting our youngest drivers — SHS students! — to be involved. You may be on to something here…

    • Linda Gramatky Smith

      Great blog article, Dan, and lots of good suggestions. I’ve already written Lizbel to volunteer and hope we can get some discussion going.

      BUT I want to tell you an opposite story of a courteous action on Monday night. I was waiting for the inside gas pumps at Cumberland Farms (Hillspoint & the Post Road) behind a white sedan that was second in line. Another car behind me moved to the front pump as a car left, so I continued to wait for this white car to move. Then I noticed there was no one in the car so I went inside and asked whose car it was. Two teenagers (who had been there so long I’m sure they were buying food) said they would be right out. They came out and THEN started to pump gas. Oh brother. So I drove around by the front door and got in line behind the two cars in the outside lane. The man in the last car was about to pump when he came up to me to say that he’d seen me waiting on the other side and HE would back up and park over the side so I could go first! “You are kidding”, I thought as I thanked him but said I was fine with waiting. Then I started to laugh and said to him that now I knew why he was so considerate: he had Pennsylvania plates! His answer? “I’ve been doing consulting work in NYC for three years , but I guess I haven’t gotten the Pennsylvania out of me.” His lovely action really gave me such a lift and I went home to tell the story to my husband. All it takes it a do-unto-others-and-you’d-have-them-do-unto-you attitude. So let’s get together and figure out how we can make civility the ethos in town once again.

  2. I agree that the streets are filled with dangerous drivers in Westport. Driving while talking on the cell phones… while backing up and exiting the town’s most difficult parking lot (CVS!)…yikes! Red lights on the Post Road seem to be just a ‘suggestion’… not an actual law, for too many drivers. I also hear about so many serious accidents on I95 at exits 17 and 18. Has anyone else noticed this preponderance of accidents on the Westport leg of the road?

  3. Larry Perlstein

    I think everyone should be required to take a refresher on how to transit a 4-way stop. I learned to drive in Westport and it’s funny how I remember so many of those lessons while driving around. For example, signalling to let oncoming cars at the forks at the Weston Road / Easton Road intersection know which way you are going. Sadly, most of the time, I seem to be the only one.

  4. You are right, Dan! And watch out for those drivers returning from the train station at the end of the work day…they roar up Bridge St and Imperial Avenue and woe to anyone in their path-
    I think it is important to build awareness of this problem, which is the first step to altering behavior. We all could use some reminders-

  5. Evelyn Wright

    It’s amazing how quickly word-of-mouth spreads warning of stepped-up enforcement. It takes police department manpower and resources to keep an observant presence on the street at problematic intersections–cops sitting in cars drinking coffee won’t work–but after a flurry of citations about which deviant drivers whine and whinge to friends and family attitudes and behavior will change.

    It’s Westport after all. An attitude of privilege is required to live here.

  6. Last night I was nearly hit by a driver at the Saugatuck train station while in the crosswalk next to Desi’s Corner. It is a long crosswalk and I was nearly across the street when a driver came around the corner. He slammed on his breaks & leaned on his horn, all while giving me the finger. By CT state law pedestrians have the right of way in a crosswalk. I wish drivers would be more civil in Westport.

  7. Dan,

    Perhaps your media empire is a good place to introduce my latest thinking on the subject of motor vehicle and driver reform. With my latest no-“brainer” This might produce two benefits. By a simple act our legislature and governor could take a real bite out of this problem directly, and increase state and local income. Here goes!

    Increase the level of all MV fines by at least two to five times current limits. As the miscreants are charged real money for violations they may very well moderate their behavior. For openers increase the hand-held phone fine
    to $500.00 with NO rebates on the first offense. Gaining income from these increased penalties will be of some assistance state wide.

    Increase the local cut from $10.00 to 10% of the fine, dedicated to increased enforcement.

  8. Young Westporter

    This isn’t a Westport problem… its an American problem. Defensive driving has turned into offensive driving due to the fact that so many people in this country can’t actually drive. Just to think when I had my drivers test. It was more a test to park, then to actually drive.
    We need to raise prices and standards to get a license. In European countries it takes hundreds of hours of behind the wheel time, and thats not at 35 mph on a highway like all student drivers do here. They teach accident avoiding manuvers, winter driving skills, how to properly maintain a car, (like know how to change a tire). Things most people here have no clue about. I could ask 10 people what they do in the event the back end of their car is fishtailing, and I would bet 8 would give me the wrong answer.
    These countries also have extensive tests, not 9 questions pertaining to how far away from a stop sign you park.
    I understand that driving here isn’t a luxury like it is in those smaller European countries, but we need to take it more far more seriously.
    Public awareness boards and campaigns frankly won’t do a thing at all. It will look great in the media, but will have no bite and effect. Fines don’t really scare people at all. Look how many still use their cell phone ilegally, even in the face of fines.
    We need to take a serious look at the fact we need to teach people how to actually drive, and if that means retesting every state resident, I’m all for that.

  9. Evelyn … my husband is a police officer in Bridgeport, not in Westport presently, but was a police officer in Westport previously just the same. Please do not assume that because a police officer is in a parking lot he is not working. That’s how they run radar, which catches people speeding, drunk drivers, etc. So, that’s actually exactly what we are talking about. They work long exhausting shifts, and perhaps they need coffee … is that your real problem with police officers? Do you know they will go entire shifts without eating a bite of food, because they are too busy? So, they chug a quick coffee to keep them going. Is this asking too much? Police officers run towards danger for a living. They get injured, insulted, spat on, assaulted and now they also have the priviledge of being known as “cops sitting in cars drinking coffee”. Nice way to show your appreciation for the men and women who keep us safe!

    Please be assured, since I actually know most of the police force, because I went to high school with many of them and I talk to them and not drive by and judge them, they are working tirelessly to keep us safe in this town. They can’t be everywhere at once. They can’t find every person speeding, it isn’t in the budget to have that many police officers on the roads.

    As the population of Westport grew, so did the volume of traffic, not to mention the people who are just using Westport roads as back roads to work. I would love to have my own ticket book to give out tickets to horrific drivers, but to do that I would have to go through what my husband and the other police officers go through often times when they give tickets – being sworn at, spat on, yelled at, being told to “do my job” (which is exactly what they are doing), putting myself in grave danger, as police officers are shot and killed for pulling over someone who doesn’t want to be caught (one police officer was murdered this weekend in New Jersey for pulling someone over … MURDERED in cold blood just for pulling someone over), assualted, etc. Since I am not brave enough to do this job, nor do I have the extreme patience it takes to deal with some of these irate people) I just choose to be a good and decent law abiding citizen and show the police officers respect and honor for keeping me safe, while putting themselves in danger.

    I wish I had a solution, and will follow this thread to see others’ solutions. If I think of one, I’ll be back! For now, I just wanted to address that comment, as it truly was offensive to police officers and to me. As I enter my 8th month of pregnancy, I often thing of lessons I will teach my daugther … the first is respect for others, which includes and is especially for police officers, fire fighters and soldiers.

    It’s a lack of respect for others that is the root of this issue. “I’m more important than everyone else on the road” … that shows a great lack of respect. When you respect yourself and others, you are a good and kind person and driver. If you have no respect for yourself and others, chances are you are driving around with a great sense of entitlement and are rude to others and therefore are one of the above mentioned jerks on the road.

    In any event, have a wonderful day, enjoy this day of relief from snow, before it comes back tomorrow! It’s like CT in the 70’s with all this snow!

    • Well said. Thanks for reminding me, with a dose of reality, of how difficult it is for a police officer.

  10. Lisa Marie Alter

    What stuns me is the lack of civility in places one would least expect: e.g. would you not expect mothers to be considerate of other mothers, and concerned about the safety of ALL CHILDREN ?

    The “classic” lack of civility example for me is the Moms who roar thru the school parking lots in their SUV’s, while dropping off their kids, on their cell phones oblivious to their surroundings, and all the other children in the parking lot…or those who are spaced out, yakking on their phones in traffic on the Post Road with their kids behind them in car seats…apparently, they care very little about anyone else, including their own offspring.

    Lack of civility extends well past the motor vehicle lane: try skating at Longshore on a crowded Saturday afternoon with the usual assortment of show-off Hockey dad’s, chasing their little “chip-off-the ol blocks” around the rink, at extreme hazard to the rest of the skaters. I watched a poor teenage girl valiantly attempt to recover her balance, then fall backwards when she was cut off by such a Hockey dad, who came to a grinding, ice-flying hockey stop just so he could show Jr. “how it’s done,” with no regard for the people around him. Or the classic indulgent parent whose kid is terrorizing the rink by rip-sh*tting around out of control. Last year, one such kid took out a friend of mine (as well as others in the same session) — the kid just wiped out, crashing into my friend — an adult who could have been seriously injured. When I approached the mother to tell her that her son was behaving inappropriately and endangering others, she got angry and screamed at me that it was not her fault.

    Who ARE these people and what planet did they come from anyway ? I for one would like to “vote them off the island.”

  11. Bravo Young Westporter!

  12. Agree that stepped up police presence is the best solution. Why not have someone stationed at the nasty intersection, CVS exit, etc? The only time I’ve seen heavy police presence on Post Road was on Christmas Day – I think it was me (trying to find an open gas station – for future reference the ridiculously expensive mobil station across from the dressing room is the only one open) and 10 police cars on the road.
    On a somewhat related question – whose responsibility is it to put sand down in the parking lots at the train station? Because they have failed. Salt is fine for roads, but for an open parking lot you really need sand for traction. It was an ice rink getting to the train this morning.

  13. The lack of civility on the roads is just a reflection of the overall lack of civility that has overtaken Westport as the population has turned over in the last few decades. Why would you expect civility from people while driving when they show none elsewhere? For those who claim this a nationwide problem; it isn’t. I travel throughout the flyover states, and for the most part, the lack of civility is not nearly as extensive as it is in this part of the country. Morevover, the lack of civility is not a direct result of an increase in population in Westport; according to the census, the population is roughly the same as it was 30 years ago. The issue is more a function of who and not how many.

  14. I think stepped-up enforcement would help, with more stringent penalties included as part of that. And, by more stringent penalties, I am not talking about merely increasing fines. There should be more instances in which a license suspension will be imposed. That would get people’s attention.

  15. Looks to me like we’ve got something going here……we’re mad as hell and not gonna take it any more.

    Let’s call Town Hall, reserve a room, announce a meeting and see who shows up. We had real representative Democracy here half a century ago and we actually worked with our neighbors to resolve issues. Now we’ve got a dedicated RTM, but they are all volunteers with busy lives who can use all our help, after all we’re all in it together.

    I’m not suggesting we have Tea, or form a posse and have vigilante Democracy, but something more akin to ” Hey Polly, we’ve got a barn, lets put on a show!”.

    Governor John Lodge, a Westport resident and ironically the driving force behind of his now namesake Turnpike, would say “For every right there is a corresponding responsibility, for every privilege an obligation.” We have a great lifestyle in our town, let’s make it a safe one.


    • OK. We are all preaching to the choir, here, which is a reflection of two things: one, we are not alone in our thinking, and two, Dan attracts a certain readership of caring, involved citizens. This gives me hope.

      I would be happy to help organize a meeting at Town Hall. Who’s with me? Please email me at Thanks!

  16. i live near the crosswalks near stop and shop, where two deaths have occured.
    how can drives or pedestrians feel safe the way it is now?
    the town or highway department needs to take away the crosswalk or add lights or at the very least a warning ahead that pedestrians might be in the road.
    the best solution , and i have seen this in so many crosswalks, is “illumination” and a motorist notification BEFORE the crosswalk so a pedestrian can safetly cross a four lane road in the darkness, no?
    leaving the crosswalks at that location the way they are is another horrific accident wainting to happen 🙁
    I would be happy to help as well notify me at

  17. I was driving through Parker-Harding Plaza one late morning and a store worker walked right in front of me without looking. She flipped her hair at me as I had to come to a stop. Her friend following her then came up to my window and proceeded to yell at me that I was in HER way. Neither never looked crossing the parking lot. Then they used their key to open the LuckyBrand Store. Do we teach our kids to be jerks in this town? These kids grow up to be adult jerks. I was never raised that way.
    The other day I was crossing in a cross walk from Parker-Harding to the library lot and I saw the first SUV that ran the red light so I waited to cross. Now I am in the middle of the crosswalk and watched in horror as another SUV ran the first light at Main and Post then tried to run the light at my crosswalk. But I and my 2 little dogs were in her way. She slammed to a stop 2 feet in front of me. Her car was no where in sight when I started to cross. She was driving so fast. I pointed to the red light above her head. I don’t know what she was yelling. All I know is that her personality came out as a very ugly unhappy woman.
    It seems there are a lot of unhappy people in this town. If these people would just chill out.

  18. Kerith Harding

    The problem raised by the reader brings to mind another problem I have been stewing over since before the snowfall– the problem of sidewalks. Westport has very few sidewalks, and the ones we do have are sporadically located. Although this may not be a big deal to many people, it is a very big deal to those who live elsewhere but come to Westport to work. These past few weeks, I’m sure even those of us who drive considerately have been concerned at the sight of people having to walk in the street because residents of this town are not required (as they are in many towns in CT) to shovel their sidewalks. Additionally, because their are few side walks on the Post Road, people waiting for buses are forced to pop their heads out behind the gigantic snow mounds in Post Road parking lots to see if the is a bus coming. Waiting for the bus, they essentially put their lives at risk, standing in the entry/exit of parking lots nearest the bus stops, because they have no other choice of a place to stand. The lack of sidewalks and sidewalk shoveling is not just a convenience issue, it is a safety issue and a social justice issue. If Westporters expect people to come from outside the town to do the jobs that they don’t want to do or can’t do (clean their homes, take care of their children), the least we can do is give them safe access to and from their destination.

  19. Lizbel and/or Betsy (above): If either of you (or someone else) does organize a meeting, please let me know — I’ll post the info as a story on “06880.” THANKS for taking the lead — and for all the insightful, relatively non-inflammatory, and on-target (as in, we’re all targets) comments so far.

    • Will do, Dan, and thank you for putting the spotlight on this important community issue… And therein may be the root of the problem. Are we a “community” if we can’t treat one another like civil, courteous, law-abiding citizens? What example are we setting for our children?

      We give them so much by living in Westport, but I hate to think that they will be influenced by the lack of civility on our roads and take those lessons into life.

      I believe, if we work together, we can change this pervasive attitude. It may take time, but it can be done.

  20. The reason I know this is a generational problem is because of my mother’s running commentary on everyone else’s poor driving when she’s driving. Fact is, she’s right. Her favorite sarcastic comments: “Nice full stop, mister” and “Nice signal, mister.”

  21. All business owners (I’m not sure about residential owners) are required to shovel their sidewalks and be sure they are safe for passage or are subjected to a fine. We always shovel our walks, so haven’t been fined. So, I don’t know the exact amount of the fine, but I think I read somewhere it’s $99. I also haven’t heard of anyone being fined, so I’m not sure how strictly these fines are enforced … or who enforces them for that matter.

    As far as the snow mounds, the 20″ of snow we had to deal with in a matter of a couple of weeks is causing the question to be asked – where can we take it all? To hire someone to move these enormous mounds of snow is very costly, then to find somewhere to bring it is a whole other issue. We used to be able to bring it to Compo Beach and Imperial Avenue, but I think they put a kibosh on Imperial Avenue for private contractors. As far as Compo, I’d have to look into that. For now, it’s creative snow moving and it’s proving very difficult … oh, and six more inches are due Friday!

    According to the Farmer’s Almanac, we can expect snow through February, but March is looking to be mild. So, we have to deal with it for five or six more weeks, then hopefully the thaw will come into play! Be careful out there and keep your eyes on the road.

    Thanks to all those hard working folks out there shoveling, sanding and plowing!

  22. The Dude Abides

    I don’t think you can “police” civility. I think that is sociologically imprinted in our DNA or maturation process before we reach the driving age. I also don’t think it is unique to Westport. Try making a late plane in Raleigh or Houston some day and that will become apparent. I do think that the police could be more proactive in traffic enforcement. I realize that they have a decreasing budget and other priorities but blatant repetitive abuse of speed limits and stop signs would seem to be an easy fix. That being said, drivers have been doing such for over 50 years that I have been here. The rage after being caught, however, is relatively new. Too much sugar in the processed foods or a culturiological aversion to being told what to do ??????

  23. People suck. And they are getting worse. It is not a function of wealth or privilege. I watched a late 90s Maroon Ford Aerostar, a POS no self-respecting soccer mom would be caught dead in, blow through a red light at the intersection of Main St and Canal this morning at 9:50 AM. First three of the license plate were 676. Hope it was worth it, d-bag.

  24. I beg to differ. I run every day on busy streets here in Westport. 99% of the drivers are courteous if not friendly. The 1% usually are the elderly, the “handicapped” and school bus drivers.

  25. I’m glad to seeing this addressed. As a mostly former Westporter (I’m still there a few times a year), I can’t help but notice that the number of deaths and serious injuries from motor vehicle accidents is way, way up in the town (and on I-95) and I wonder when people in a position to do something about it WILL actually do something about it.
    And yeah, it’s a pretty impossible town for pedesterians, of which there aren’t that many. But I walk from the Greens Farms train station to the family home, and I was very nearly killed (like VERY nearly) when a car driven by a teenager went well out of its lane and across the yellow line – yes, because the girl was trying to pick up her cell phone – and crashed into a car that had just passed me. I knew there was a crash because the debris actually flew right in front of my face.
    As to another issue raised here, more long-term residents tell me that the newbies in Westport can be pretty horrible people, and that’s been my observation of them, too.

  26. As my Greek great grandfather once told me: Ninety per cent of the world are assholes. The key is finding the other ten per cent.

  27. How apropos, especially in light of the RTM vote yesterday to overturn a P&Z regulation. One woman, as quoted in Westport Patch, said, ““We saved every penny to buy this house. We will not be able to do what we want with our house.” In other words, I am entitled to what ever I want and don’t tell me I can’t.

    • Why would you want to tell someone what they can do with their house? So you can get them to do what you want them to do? Isn’t that just another manifestation of behavior motivate by a sense of entitlement? How much control over the behavior of others do you want? How much of your behavior would you like others to control for their benefit?

      • The Dude Abides

        I agree Anonymous. Freedom of choice. But there need to be penalties for such poor choices i.e. buying at the height of the market, running stop signs etc. Those “entitled” don’t seem to understand the word “no” or “you just can’t do that.” Same behavior, same results.

        • The penalties must be established before the fact, not after, and the penalties must be the direct consequence of a poor choice and not merely a refelection of the prejudices of a few.

          • The Dude Abides

            I often feel that many of the traffic violations are not enforced because the police are weary of the drivers who make their lives miserable with high powered attorneys, etc. if ticketed. We live in a litigious society that often dampens the intent of the law and in this case, the safety of the many and the lives of the few.

        • Note that the P&Z is now whining about the 32-1 vote to overturn their latest regulation.

          • The Dude Abides

            Yeah and the Kool Aid drinkers wants to set up a “committee” to study traffic violations to flap their egos. Check out Willowbrook Cemetery at 2:45 p.m. each day and you will see where our finest spend their time.

          • Just what Westport needs, another committee. Too many people with too little to do.

          • The Dude Abides

            Jessica Baum would say the same about us. Never was a big fan of committee rule. Too many egos. And in this town, super egos galore.

  28. Let us not forget about those who run through stop signs. Like the woman today coming out of the side enterance at Staples. It was as if the stop sign did not exsit!

    • I just passed Staples. Each driver exiting the campus had a cell phone in his or her ear.

  29. Neither driver this morning were on cell phones. It was just plain not paying attention to the STOP SIGN.

    • Actually it was not as simple as running a stop sign. Had you actually been there you would know.

  30. was there. many other witnesses were there too. police didn’t even want any more witness statements because everyone told them the same thing.
    driver ran the stop sign and was ticketed accordingly.
    know it for certain.

  31. Arthur Champlin

    Maybe the kiddos should take the bus.