CHP, Santa Clarita Mount Effort to Stem Road Deaths; Growth Is Blamed

Times Staff Writer

Concerned about an accident toll that threatens to make 1987 the Santa Clarita Valley's worst year for traffic fatalities, the California Highway Patrol and a citizens' committee embarked on a campaign Tuesday warning drivers to "take time out for traffic safety."

Capt. Bill Kelley, commander of the CHP's Newhall station, said 25 people have died in traffic accidents in the area this year, an increase of 41% over the same period in 1986.

Kelley attributed the rising traffic death rate, in large part, to rapid growth. He called the Santa Clarita Valley "an urban area growing up around a rural road system."

"At the rate it's going now, the traffic death rate will be at least 80 by the end of the year," Kelley said.

CHP Jurisdiction

The CHP is responsible for traffic enforcement on surface streets, as well as freeways, in unincorporated areas of the state such as the Santa Clarita Valley.

Last year, 58 traffic deaths, 1% of the total in the state, were reported in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to CHP statistics. In 1985, 41 people died in accidents on the area's roads.

CHP Officer Ralph Elvira said that, although improvements are being made, the area's roads were not engineered and designed to handle rapid growth. Drivers entering the area, not realizing that they have reached an urban area where traffic is heavier, tend to be more careless and drive faster than they should.

"There's still that rural look up here," he said.

Most traffic deaths in the Santa Clarita Valley are caused, not by alcohol or drugs, but by speeding and impatient drivers who try to beat out other cars by crossing in their path or turning left in front of them, Elvira said.

"We can't do anything about the roads, but we can do something about the people who drive them," he said of the CHP safety campaign.

At the request of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Kelley said, the CHP began using radar to catch speeders on the most heavily traveled streets, including California 126 and the Sierra Highway, as well as Placerita Canyon, Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon roads.

Unmarked patrol cars are being used on the freeways, Kelley said, and he has requested several motorcycles in his 1988-89 budget.

Motorcycles, which have never been used in the area before, are able to maneuver through heavy traffic better than patrol cars, Kelley said.

The citizens group, called the Traffic Safety Awareness Committee, had the idea of putting billboards up to make drivers more aware of traffic safety, Kelley said. The committee, composed of about 25 volunteers, was formed by Kelley in March, said its chairwoman, Beverly Hartman, a secretary.

Personal Tragedies

"This is a real team effort to halt traffic deaths and raise the level of awareness of drivers," she said.

Many of the volunteers, who include lawyers, retired engineers, schoolteachers, law-enforcement officers and others, joined the committee because they had had personal tragedies involving traffic accidents, Hartman said.

The first billboard, in the 25000 block of San Fernando Road in Saugus, was donated by committee member Rod Edwards. It will remain at there about two months. Then, Hartman said, the committee hopes to send the billboard on a tour of other places in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Besides the slogan "Take Time Out for Traffic Safety," the committee's newly adopted symbol, a sports referee signaling "time out," also is on the billboard.

Hartman said the committee hopes to develop several other programs promoting traffic safety.

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