As Santa Barbara County’s Third District supervisor, one of the consistent concerns people share with me is roadway safety, particularly along Highway 154.
That is why I was eager to chair the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments’ State Route 154 Safety Committee, which meets 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, at the Solvang Veterans Memorial Building, 1745 Mission Drive.
To prepare, California Highway Patrol Lt. Eric Zivic, the CHP’s Coastal Division commander, invited me for a ride-along to get a firsthand experience of safety issues on Highway 154.
So, on a recent morning, I hopped into CHP Officer Wayne Villard’s truck. He is the division’s commercial officer who sees to it that trucks follow safety regulations.
I was immediately struck by how truck drivers along the Avenue of Flags waved to him as we drove by. He explained that he knows most local drivers and they work together to make sure trucks don’t pose a danger to other drivers or pedestrians.
Our first stop was to pull over a woman speeding by who Villard estimated to be traveling at 85 mph. He explained that radar merely confirms an experienced officer’s judgment.
The woman was polite and admitted her excessive speed. Villard let her go with only a stern lecture and a written warning.
When he came back to his car, he quipped: “How would you rate your customer service today with California’s Highway Patrol?”
I must admit that I have had a couple of encounters with the CHP over the years. The officers have been exceedingly kind and eager to encourage better behavior rather than to punish.
Like the woman we stopped, I have been exceedingly grateful and determined to demonstrate my gratitude by being a better driver.
CHP officers are often first on the scene at horrendous vehicle crashes and it takes a grave personal toll. Some, like Villard, have lost colleagues in the line of duty.
Their motivation is to educate and change behavior so they don’t have to bear witness to tragedy and call loved ones with terrible news.
As we drove, Villard pointed out several trucks that were too long to travel legally on Highway 154.
I knew that trucks carrying hazardous materials are banned on the route because Lake Cachuma serves as a drinking water reservoir for much of the county — a change in law that my predecessor, Supervisor Doreen Farr, fought for.
But I knew nothing about California’s laws limiting truck length to 65 feet on state highways. Neither did most of the truck drivers we encountered on Highway 154 that day.
Most trucks traveling from out-of-state are about 75 feet long, legal on interstates where federal rules prevail.
But California rules take over when trucks turn onto state highways like 154. Drivers are supposed to know this, both by reading their truck maps where the 154, for instance, is marked in red and by seeing posted “Terminal Access” road signs.
This raises two problems. First, most drivers don’t download maps but instead rely on cellphone GPS that simply designates the shortest route without indicating roads that might be steep or winding and therefore inappropriate for trucks.
Second, most of us have no idea what “Terminal Access” signage means. When Villard first pointed the sign out to me, I guessed it denoted a nearby airport or bus terminal.
In fact, it means that the truck driver has reached a decision point about staying on the current road. If the truck exceeds California’s legal length, the driver may only travel a short distance off the interstate for local deliveries.
The truck drivers seemed as uninformed about the “Terminal Access” jargon as I was. Villard repeatedly noted the oversized trucks rumbling past.
He pulled one over. It was a driver from Baltimore who was going to Santa Maria to pick up cabbage that he would transport across the country to Boston. The driver had no idea about California’s limit on truck length.
Villard measured his truck, showed him the map with Highway 154 marked in red and tried to explain “Terminal Access” signs.
After the truck driver left, I asked whether education was working. He told me that he could stop trucks like that all day, and often does. The drivers come from all over and he does not encounter the same drivers again.
It seems to me that California needs clearer signs with less transportation jargon — an idea for the State Route 154 Safety Committee.
I encourage people to attend this meeting to learn about progress and to offer your suggestions for making this road safer for us all.
Highway 154 Safety Committee Meeting
The State Route 154 Safety Committee will convene at 5:30 p.m. June 14 at the Solvang Veterans Memorial Building, 1745 Mission Drive, to discuss the latest traffic safety and improvement efforts with a specific focus on the Los Olivos community.
Representatives from Caltrans; the California Highway Patrol; Santa Barbara County; the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG); state Sen. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara; Assemblyman Gregg Hart, D-Santa Barbara; and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians will be present at the meeting to provide updates, answer questions and address concerns.
Presentations will be in English with simultaneous interpretation in English and Spanish.
Click here for more information about Highway 154, presentations and the State Route 154 Safety Committee meeting agenda.