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Highway 17 safety measures and concerns following recent lawsuit

By Marissa Schwartz, Reporter, MarissaSchwartz@kionrightnow.com
Published On: Jul 18 2014 11:32:49 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 19 2014 02:00:00 AM CDT

Highway 17 safety

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. -

It's known as one of the most dangerous roads on the Central Coast.  Windy curves and heavy traffic contribute to more than a hundred accidents every year, some deadly.

Now we're learning a civil lawsuit is being filed in Santa Clara County for a 10-car pileup on Highway 17 about a week ago.  A Santa Cruz man was killed and several others were injured in the wreck, which took place during the morning commute.  One of the injured is suing SBT trucking, alleging negligence.

Because of that lawsuit, NewsChannel 5 went back to Highway 17 where we spoke with a commuter who witnessed that crash.

No matter what time of the year it is, commuters tell me Highway 17 is always busy.  It's known as a high collision corridor, which is why a special task force was created to come up with ways to lower the number of crashes.  

"You never get used to it.  It's like you're coming around a corner and it's locked up just because a butterfly flies across the road," said commuter Aaron Downing, who says he saw the deadly crash last week.

Crashes may not be predictable, but they are preventable.  That's the message the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission said it aims to achieve with drivers.  In the last decade, the "Safe on 17" Task Force says it's been able to reduce the number of crashes and deaths along Highway 17, by almost half.  In 2012, CalTrans created better drainage at Vine Hill Road, put in a new guardrail at Santa's Village Road and completed a high-traction pavement project on the Santa Clara County side.  Commuters said they've noticed some of the major changes.  

"You know they put the shoulder wall in the middle, that kind of barrier in between, that wasn't there before.  So that's one good thing, so you can't do head-on collisions with other cars if they're not paying attention," said driver Brion Hopkins.

During a major incident, special signs will light up with a radio frequency information so drivers can tune in for updates on traffic conditions.  The task force said speeding, tailgating, unsafe lane changes and distracted driving are all contributing factors to crashes.  That's why there's extra enforcement by CHP during peak hours.  

If you have car trouble, Santa Cruz County has a Freeway Service Patrol, offering a free tow, help with quick fixes, even a gallon of gas to get you on your way.  If you don't have a cellphone, there are call boxes all along Highway 17, so you can get that extra help.  Commuters said the added help makes a difference.  

"Driving on Highway 17 is always a journey.  You never know what to expect, it could be an accident, it could be a traffic jam.  You know there's a lot of people not paying attention, texting on their phone," Hopkins said.

Of course distracted driving is a major focus for the "Safe on 17" Task Force as well.  The group said it meets twice a year with several other agencies, to discuss ways to make improvements.