By Len Ramirez

LOS GATOS (KPIX) – Despite efforts over the past few decades to make Highway 17 safer, its reputation seems to be getting worse.

Traffic accidents on this dangerous stretch of roadway between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz spiked in January and February of 2019.

“It’s curvy, it’s hilly, it’s not always sloped the way you expect it,” said Jill Hansen, who lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains and drives the highway every day.

She said impatient drivers make it only worse.

“I was going 50 mph in the slow lane in the rain and was being tailgated by a
lady who was making rude gestures behind me,” said Hansen.

“I try to avoid it at all costs,” said Alex Gerasimov, adding he sometimes detours on other highways to bypass Highway 17.

So far this year, there were 228 crashes on Highway 17, which averages four a day, according to the California Highway Patrol.

“I think the biggest reasons is all the wet weather, and people are just going way too fast,” said Officer Henrik Bailey, who patrols the area.

The speed limit is 50 mph over the mountains, but many drivers go faster.

A motorcycle officer was seen pulling over several drivers for speeding.
But with blind curves and a hardly any shoulders, enforcing speed laws is dangerous for the officers.

In 2005, CHP Lt. Michael Walker was struck and killed by a car while at the
scene of an earlier crash.

“Where we really have a problem are these secondary crashes,” said Jim Helmer, a former traffic engineer for San Jose and Santa Cruz. He is on the Highway 17 Safety Task Force.

He says solutions already being tried include eliminating left turns against
oncoming traffic and more safety barriers.

But in the future, there could be high-tech solutions that would cut down on the most dangerous and deadly situations, which Helmer said are secondary crashes.

Helmer said sensors embedded into the pavement can warn drivers on electronic road signs, or even in some vehicle communications systems.

“Using wireless communications, artificial intelligence. They can immediately
detect the crash and prevent other drivers from having secondary crashes.”

One of the other reasons blamed for the accident increase is an increase in the number of people now using Highway 17, which is about 63,000 per day according to the CHP.

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