Twenty three years after its original implementation, the Safe on 17 campaign was reignited for a third time in late 2018. Highway 17 serves as a major commute corridor between Santa Cruz County and Silicon Valley, with upwards of 63,000 vehicles per day traveling the 26 ½ mile roadway. In addition to being utilized by commute traffic, Highway 17 is the primary artery for those wishing to escape “over the hill” for a day at the beach, a hike through the forests at Nicene Marks, a bike ride at Wilder Ranch, or a day at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
One of the Bay Area’s most scenic routes, it also presents an inordinate number of driving hazards. In 1996, there were 798 accidents on 17, the highest number in over a decade. Two years later, the highway was identified as a “high collision corridor.” Officials from Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties formed the “Safe on 17” initiative and allocated $250 million toward implementing multiple safety strategies geared toward minimizing the number of accidents. These included widening of shoulders so disabled vehicles would have more space to pull off the roadway, the creation of a median barrier along the majority of the roadway as well as anti-skid pavement, tree removal, and flashing warning signs in high danger areas.
The various improvements put in place in the late 1990s seemed to work and the number of accidents, especially serious ones, steadily declined – until 2003. Accidents began to rise once again to alarming levels and so the “Safe on 17” campaign was redeployed. Accidents along the mountainous road fell by over 30 percent from 2003 to 2014, with fewer deaths and injuries, considerably more than the 10 percent decline officials predicted.
But in recent years, the number of vehicular accidents along this stretch has begun a steady uptick. In 2013, the number of crashes was 420 but in 2015, that number jumped to 664. One year later, there were 983 collisions, a thirty-three percent increase. The statics in 2017 and 2018 weren’t much better, as is evidenced by the “collision carnage” along the roadside in areas like Laurel Curve, Glenwood cutoff, the Valley Surprise (coming from Summit toward Los Gatos), and Moody Curve. The “Safe on 17” campaign was once again stepped up in an attempt to raise awareness, boost safety, and bring those collision statistics down.
Named one of the most dangerous roads in the nation, highway 17 presents a quite a number of driving hazards. These include blind corners, steep hills, sharp turns, potholes, large trucks, and wildlife on the roadways. Throw in inclement weather and you add hydroplaning, rock and mudslides, and downed trees to the mix. With more and more cars using the road every year, aggressive and distracted driving are the proverbial “cherry on top,” continuing to make the “Safe on 17” campaign a necessity.
The Santa Clara County Fire Department created a website dedicated to this campaign, including videos informing drivers about distracted driving as well as advising them of driving during bad weather and the danger of secondary accidents. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has significantly stepped up their presence from Scotts Valley to Los Gatos, not only ticketing those who are speeding, tailgating, or texting while driving, but also to provide a deterrent to others to obey the speed limit and hands-free laws. During major storms, the CHP will lead cars down the highway to ensure they drive at a safe speed while CalTrans is ready and waiting to deal with mudslides, trees, or dangerous roadway debris resulting from inclement weather.
If you are one of the 63,000 people who drive over highway 17, be safe. Drive an appropriate speed for the weather, stay alert as you round corners, slow down as you descend steep hills, signal when you change lanes, stay at least four car lengths behind the person in front of you, and keep your attention on the road at all times. We encourage you to put your phone away or enable the Do Not Disturb function while you are in your vehicle. Never text while driving and if you must take a call, use your vehicle’s Bluetooth capability or other hands-free device.
Many of us will drive Highway 17 so we can enjoy all both Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz County have to offer. Enjoy the scenic drive, the towering redwoods and beautiful views but be “Safe on 17.”