Cracking down on canyon speeding


A joint effort between the CHP and Sheriff’s Department will put the brake on canyon speeders.

By Vicki Talbot / Special to The Malibu Times

Although accidents on Pacific Coast Highway have involved many deaths in the past years-two people died in highway accidents in the past month and a half-and garnered headline attention around the world, as with the February 2006 Enzo Ferrari crash at a speed of more than 162 mph, local law enforcement agencies and a county supervisor are focusing safety efforts on canyon driving in the unincorporated areas of the Santa Monica Mountains. However, officials say that the program, “Operation Safe Canyons,” will have a “collateral” effect on highway driving.

Complaints of noise and speeding, as well as accidents, some of them fatal, throughout the canyons have prompted the program that will put the brakes on exhibition speeding on these roads. Those who violate the laws by speeding or other unsafe driving practices will find it much harder to get away with it. “Operation Safe Canyon” is a collaboration of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Malibu/Lost Hills Station, the California Highway Patrol West Valley area and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

At a press conference Monday on Mulholland Highway near Kanan Dume Road, Yaroslavsky, CHP Area Commander Stephen Webb and Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Capt. Tom Martin announced their stepped-up presence. “Look at the skid-marks on the highway. That is evidence of unsafe driving,” said Martin, pointing to Mulholland’s blacktop at an overlook.

The joint effort will allow Sheriff’s deputies and CHP officers to patrol both incorporated and unincorporated areas within the entire 500 miles of roads that are in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“We intend to save lives,” Yaroslavsky said. “Law enforcement is coming down like a ton of bricks.”

Residents’ complaints of noise and unsafe driving conditions, combined with two fatalities and 60 collisions since the first of the year, illustrate the problems, Webb said.

There is a demographic involved, CHP Officer Leland Tang said. “These are men who are single, in their mid- 20s to early 40s, who have large discretionary incomes for high-tech cars and motorcycles. To physically handle it, the CHP needed to make this partnership.”

Areas such as Tuna Canyon, Decker Canyon, Mulholland Highway, Piuma Stunt Loop and Saddle Peak are “popular spots,” he said.

Exhibition speeders set up Web sites on the Internet advertising their next race or event, Webb said. They announce sites all throughout the canyons and “use cell phones to move them to the other side of the canyon,” when they see us. Patrols have already started to drop the number of violations.

“We have issued 800 citations since Jan. 1 in the area,” Webb said. “That is including 625 violations for speeding and six DUI arrests.”

With a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and funding provided through the office of Supervisor Yaroslavsky, the CHP and Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s deputies will be able to patrol “24/7,” he said. The CHP is planning to attend town meetings to get the word out.

Exhibition speeders like to “congregate here in the middle of nowhere. It’s become a magnet,” he said. “If you don’t see a cruiser here now, there’s a good chance there is one around the next corner.”

However, the problem is not just safety. Noise plagues residents all night long. Vehicles that have large exhausts, cars that are lowered, supercharged and chipped are street racing and crossing double-yellow lines, burning out from a stop and pulling back on turns just before they run off the cliff. One resident, who did not wish to be identified, said these racers routinely rescue each other with their own equipment, towing cars up embankments and picking up wrecks.

Some area residents expressed gratitude for the increased patrols. They complimented law enforcement for their efforts.

In Malibu, Pacific Coast Highway is considered a main feeder for these forays into the mountains. The speeders and exhibition drivers tend to take the less popular routes, such as Tuna, Decker and Las Flores canyons into the mountains. Patrols will be extended to find the feeder routes, and Sheriff’s deputies and CHP officers will be working overtime in the region.

“They will impound, jail and arrest offenders,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is no joke.”

“Exhibitionist speeders race in the Santa Monica Mountains, among the most dangerous roads in the county.” Webb said.

As for safety on Pacific Coast Highway, law enforcement and county officials say their efforts will have a “collateral” effect on catching unsafe drivers who use the highway to get to the canyons. Also, six traffic signs that show how fast drivers are going on the highway were recently installed and enforcement is stepped up overall during summertime.