Responding to heightened fears about car crashes on State Route 154, officers with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) scheduled a press conference event on Thursday to raise awareness about traffic safety. CHP records reveal that in 2015 there were 12 percent more traffic collisions with 23 percent more injuries than the five-year average. The number of DUI collisions — nine — stayed the same. From 2006-2014, there were one to two fatalities each year, CHP records state. Last year, there were three.
Safety advocate Mary Beth Kerr explained the stats are hard to decipher, as a lag time exists between incident and report. For instance, two recent high profile crashes — one fatality involving a donkey cart and the other a Chumash Casino bus — have not been tallied in recent reports, she said. “It’s confusing to people,” she added. Kerr started the Facebook group Santa Ynez Valley Lives Matter, which now functions in part as an avenue to call out speeding or reckless drivers — “Hey Dork in the aqua PT Cruiser,” one post read. Advocates also made signs that read, “Not One More on the 154.”
“It’s not just the 154,” Kerr added. “It’s parts of the 246. There’s lots of bad driving.” Last October, the CHP received a grant to beef up its patrol time in the area. In the first quarter, from October to February, state highway patrol officers used the funds to clock an additional 406 hours. They issued 515 citations, gave 74 verbal warnings, completed 26 field sobriety tests, made seven DUI arrests, and impounded eight vehicles between Santa Barbara and Buellton.
“The 154 is not unsafe,” CHP Officer Jonathan Gutierrez said. “It’s the drivers who are driving in an unsafe manner. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s someone who is making a mistake.” Gutierrez added when people are texting and driving, they aren’t looking at the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, which, for a person driving 65 miles per hour, translates to the distance of a football field.