Shortly after issuing a citation to a driver who was exceeding the 55 mph speed limit on Highway 154 on Thursday, CHP Officer John Ortega turned on his lights and siren and pulled over another motorist for failing to wear a seat belt.
Both drivers also had failed to heed the requirement that their headlights be turned on in the daytime on the mostly two-lane highway, which winds through the Santa Ynez Valley, over San Marcos Pass and into Santa Barbara.
The 32-mile-long road is renowned for its scenic qualities — passing through mountains, ranchland and vineyards — but it also has a long and grisly history of fatal and injurious vehicle accidents.
With the travel season in full swing and with the community expressing fears and outrage about reckless driving on Highway 154, CHP officers from Buellton and Santa Barbara held a news conference Thursday in Los Olivos to encourage the public to be aware of and to adopt safe driving practices.
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There were 4,600 citations issued and 61 drunken-driving arrests made within the Santa Ynez Valley area of Highway 154 from Jan. 1, 2015, to June 2016, according to CHP Lt. Kurt Kruse.
It’s mainly a local problem, Kruse said: 90 percent of citations are given to area residents, and 80 percent of DUI arrests are locals.
“They don’t necessarily come from the casino or the winery (nearby),” Kruse said. “Even though we are a tourism area, it’s the locals we are trying to get the message out (to about safe driving practices).”
The focus is to educate drivers about obeying laws, not driving distracted and not following too closely or driving aggressively on Highway 154.
Kruse advised drivers to pay close attention to speed-limit signs.
The maximum speed on Highway 154 is 55 mph. Areas of the tight and banked curves on the highway are where the speed limit is lowest.
“When we see an issue or potential issue, we aggressively go after it with enforcement and educational campaigns,” Kruse said. “We’ve always had these issues throughout the area.”
Enforcement resources are being deployed to raise awareness of safe driving practices, Kruse said.
In October 2015, the CHP received a grant through the federal government to step up its enforcement of traffic in the area.
Officers will be patrolling the route to ensure compliance with the law, and the funding allows the CHP to have an additional six to eight officers in the valley area this holiday weekend, Kruse said.
Commercial Enforcement Officer Wayne Villard said the most common citation for truck traffic is the California vehicle code section related to vehicle length restrictions.
Commercial drivers with truck tractor-semitrailers typically look for a quick route, but their GPS systems don’t factor in their vehicle length, he said.
A truck tractor or trailer may not exceed 65 feet on the highway, according to Caltrans.
“Lives will be saved when aggressive driving behaviors are eliminated,” said Mark D’Arelli, commander of the CHP’s Santa Barbara area. “Everyone has to agree to accept the legal and ethical responsibility to slow down, be patient at all times and pay attention.”