Accidents, a Sinkhole Follow Sudden Rains

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In a sudden change in the weather, a cold front swept into the San Fernando Valley on Wednesday morning, bringing strong wind and rain that set off a rash of fender-bender car crashes and perhaps opened a sinkhole in a Granada Hills street.

Although there were no major rain-related crashes, Officer Frank Zdroy of the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Traffic division said: "We've had more than our share of (minor) accidents. The streets are slick and people are driving like fools."

Although the California Highway Patrol routinely puts out advisories telling drivers to slow down on rainy roads and the state includes weather questions on the driver's license test, many drivers don't change their fair weather driving habits on slick streets, traffic safety experts complain.

"Californians are notoriously horrible drivers," said Officer Joseph Gomez, a veteran San Fernando Valley motorcycle officer.

Gomez said the state Department of Motor Vehicles should include skid training as part of the license test, so drivers would not have to perform their first panic stop on a slick road with another car a few feet away.

"People don't adjust to the weather. They fail to realize the stopping distance of a vehicle is increased. Mix rain with the oil on the roads and it's like driving on ice."

In Granada Hills, a sinkhole the size of a car opened in Balboa Boulevard, closing two lanes of traffic during rush hour on Wednesday evening, officials said.

City officials said it was unclear whether the rain was to blame for the hole, but they would continue to investigate. "There is water under the street," said Bob Hayes, spokesman for the Department of Public Works. "But we don't know where it came from."

Street maintenance crews put up barriers around the sinkhole in front of the Knollwood Country Club at about 3 p.m., Hayes said.

Traffic was limited to one lane in each direction, causing a jam that stretched three quarters of a mile to the Simi Valley Freeway. Officials said the blockage would last several days.

"It was a mess out there," said Cheryl Horning, a waitress at the country club's coffee shop. "I am taking a short cut home."

At the All Safe Driving School in Tarzana, students routinely cancel their lessons on rainy days, even though that is an ideal time to practice defensive driving, said the school's operator, Chahin Moussavi.

Moussavi said drivers should maintain an extra-long distance between cars in the rain, turn on headlights and slow down. Other tips include making sure tires have enough tread, and avoiding hard braking, accelerating or swerving.

"When I'm driving on a rainy day, I'm always looking around," said Moussavi, who trains driving instructors. "I never assume that the other guy knows what he's doing."

The good news for drivers everywhere: The morning rainstorm has headed out of the region, leaving partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 60s in coming days.

But beware. Curtis Brock, a meteorologist for WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times, says Southern California may see light showers return early next week.

Times staff writer Timothy Williams contributed to this story.

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