Gratuitous Gore on Highway 154

Do the Math: Maximum of Six Minutes Saved by Speeding Over Pass

Highway 154 extends from Highway 101 north of Buellton to Highway 101 in Santa Barbara. The entire highway is 32 miles long. It takes drivers over San Marcos Pass, and it is designated a Scenic Highway, which protects it from development, billboards, or other signage that might detract from the natural beauty along its extent. Highway 154 is also one of the deadliest stretches of road in the United States.

The greatest tragedy of traffic fatalities along Highway 154 is the fact that they largely are avoidable. The main causes of fatal traffic accidents on Highway 154 are driving under the influence and/or reckless driving: passing by crossing over a double-yellow line in a no-passing zone.

Concerted efforts to curtail drunken driving (sobriety checkpoints, increasingly severe penalties for driving under the influence) have reduced the number of DUI arrests and DUI-related traffic accidents. These efforts are laudable, and it is hoped that someday DUIs will be a thing of the past.

Perhaps harder to understand are traffic accidents caused by reckless driving. Driving recklessly on Highway 154 is not only dangerous, but it is entirely unproductive. A brief look at the numbers clearly demonstrates this fact.

The top speed limit on Highway 154 is 55 miles per hour. Many stretches of Highway 154 are through tight or blind curves, where the speed limit is much lower. To average 50 miles per hour without exceeding the speed limit, driving conditions would have to be perfect: little or no traffic, clear weather, dry road surfaces. So the best legal speed one can average on Highway 154 is 50 miles per hour, which makes 38 minutes the quickest legal driving time from one end of Highway 154 to the other.

Drivers on Highway 154 often are in a hurry, however, and it is not uncommon to see cars stacked up in a tight column behind a driver who insists on driving at or slower than the speed limit. As soon as there is an opportunity to pass, this column of frustrated drivers goes whizzing by the offender with a vengeance. Some drivers don’t wait for a passing lane, and actually challenge death in a possible head-on collision by zipping out over the double-yellow line-driving against the flow of traffic in the opposing lane on a two-lane highway-in order to pass one or more other cars.

Let’s say that a driver is in a great hurry and manages an average speed of 60 miles per hour along the entire length of the 154-which is quite a feat, considering the sections of Highway 154 where the speed limit is 30 or 40 miles per hour. Doing so would require driving maybe 70 or 80 miles per hour in straightaways. If a driver manages to drive at an average speed of 60 miles per hour on Highway 154, traveling its 32 miles takes 32 minutes.

That means that the greatest amount of time that can possibly be saved on Highway 154 by breaking the law and driving at recklessly fast speeds, versus driving at the speed limit, is six minutes. Six minutes!

The time savings is even smaller if one enters Highway 154 along the way, from Highway 246, for example. The shorter the distance, the less potential savings of time by speeding.

Anyone who has ever driven from Buellton to Santa Barbara knows that the great irony of speeding down Highway 154 is that it terminates in a traffic light in Santa Barbara. The drivers who recklessly speed past other motorists usually are waiting down at the stoplight when the same, slower-driving motorists they passed pull up right behind them. The traffic light is the great equalizer, and nullifies the few minutes of time one might conceivably gain by speeding.

I encourage the City of Santa Barbara, area law enforcement agencies, the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Transportation, and other government agencies to launch a public relations campaign to educate the residents of Santa Barbara County about the folly of trying to make up time on this short stretch of highway. Highway 154 is only 32 miles long. The most time one could possibly gain by speeding is a few minutes, probably to be lost at the stoplight. Why risk one’s life and the lives of others for nothing?

It is so easy to demonstrate this-just do the math.

Chuck Lepkowsky is a psychologist and resident of Solvang.

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