New safety campaign for deadly PCH strip urges drivers to ‘slow the fast down’

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

State and local officials trying to reduce the lethality of the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu launched a public education campaign this week to get drivers to “slow the fast down” — or get pulled over.

The message, which Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said will be delivered on billboards, lawn and beach signs, fliers, posters and social media, emphasizes the stepped-up enforcement by the California Highway Patrol in the 21-mile stretch that has claimed 60 lives since 2010. The plan is to educate residents and tourists about the dangers of reckless driving, what’s happened on the highway as a result of it, what is being done to increase safety and how everyone can do their part.

State and local leaders convened Wednesday at Malibu’s Ghost Tire Memorial, a tribute to dozens of lives lost on that stretch of the PCH, to announce the campaign. Dubbed “Go Safely PCH,” it’s the latest in a series of initiatives to enhance safety, including changes to the highway’s markings and signage.

So far, though, there’s been no move to lower the speed limit on the deadly stretch — a change many residents have been asking for ever since the deaths of four Pepperdine seniors, who were struck by a driver last October.

Tina Segel, a 50-year resident of the city, asked the officials gathered at the memorial how hard it would be to reduce the speed limit. The four students were killed right outside of Segel’s home.

Lowering the speed limit on a state highway would mean looking into its design and reviewing the applicable state and federal laws, said Toks Omishakin, California Transportation Secretary. “It’s not as straightforward as it may seem.”

“But there’s no doubt, no doubt, that we know the No. 1 issue here is speeding, distracted driving and driving under the influence,” Omishakin said. All are factors that lead to crashes on this portion of the Pacific Coast Highway, he said.

The idea of lowering the speed limit isn’t completely off the table, said Tony Tavares, director of the California Department of Transportation.

Six months after the four Pepperdine students’ deaths, Pacific Coast Highway has visibly changed, with enhanced striping in curves, optical speed bars (stripes spaced at gradually decreasing distances to make drivers aware of their speed), speed feedback signs, speed limit markings on the pavement and upgraded safety corridor signs.

All were short-term projects that were promised by a collaboration announced last December among the California State Transportation Agency, California Office of Traffic Safety, Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey P. Horvath, the city of Malibu and Caltrans District 7.

Another part of the promise was beefing up law enforcement on the highway. The California Highway Patrol established a three-officer unit patrol and one sergeant in January, whose work comes on top of enforcement efforts by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

The new CHP unit has issued more then 1,200 citations; 1,000 of those citations were for speeding. Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputies are writing more tickets too, Omishakin said; from January through March, the Sheriff Department’s Malibu/Lost Hills station issued roughly 1,900 citations, up from 1,700 citations in the first quarter of 2023.

Perhaps not by chance, there were at least six traffic stops performed during the news conference on the highway nearby.

The additional police presence hasn’t entirely stopped dangerous driving on the roadway. On Jan. 11 the Sheriff’s Department responded to a three-vehicle accident, the 10th wreck on PCH since the October tragedy.

In 2023 alone, there were 220 crashes on the stretch of PCH from the Ventura County line to the McClure Tunnel in Santa Monica. Officials say that the majority of incidents were speed related.

Nevertheless, Douglas Young, assistant chief of the highway patrol’s Southern Division, said the enforcement efforts are making a difference. Amid the increase in citations for speeding, distracted driving, unsafe turns, unsafe lane changes, and seat belt and equipment violations, there has been a 15% decline in crashes, Young said.

“The word ‘decline’ is something we’re hoping to hear more and more over the next several weeks, months and years,” he said.

Looking ahead, Caltrans will conduct three safety audits along the highway to identify issues that can be enhances or retrofitted. The audits will be done by Caltrans staff riding or walking through the corridor, but the agency is imploring the community to participate in the audits and future meetings, Tavares said.

The audits and stakeholder meetings will result in a PCH master plan and report at the end of the year to identify improvements needed on the highway, based in part on the community’s input.

The activist group Streets are for Everyone, which has been pushing for safety improvements alongside the city and a coalition of other advocates known as Fix PCH, criticized officials for not telling the coalition about the campaign and announcement until the last minute.

Ironically, the announcement was made at the memorial site created by the organization and Fix PCH.

“There was no work to engage the local community on the details of the campaign or work out how it could best be rolled out in an effective manner, yet it’s those on the ground that would know how best to do this,” the group said in a statement.

Caltrans, it said, “has yet to do the easiest thing it could do to reduce serious injuries and fatalities: reduce the speed limit through the deadliest 2 miles of PCH in the middle of Malibu.”

“We aim not just for new mandates, but on this corridor, new mindsets,” Omishakin said. “And in order to change mindsets and change behaviors, we must raise awareness.”

Segel told The Times she’s happy to see these initiatives and the leaders coming into her community to force change, and she’s starting to see results.

“That tragedy has just bonded our community together like I’ve never seen,” she said. “As tragic as it is, I guess it’s also a very, very sad silver lining.”

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.

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