Add double-decker median divide to Highway 17, reader says

Dear Street Smarts, Q: Just north of the Santa’s Village Road exit on Highway 17, the center divide is double height for approximately one mile. Why does the rest of Highway 17 not have a similar height divider? The extra height for this stretch is always welcome while driving at night, as it blocks the headlights of traffic headed the other direction. As an added bonus, perhaps it would also help reduce the need for people to stop and stare every time there is an accident on the other side of the highway. If raising the divide itself is too costly, what about the stick on dividers I've seen placed on top of center medians in other parts of the state? Thank you much, Keith Tyndall, Scotts Valley A: “Good observations,” said Susana Cruz, Caltrans spokeswoman. “However, the taller divider is only where there is a ‘straightaway.’ The rest of the area is full of curves and doubling up or putting up taller dividers would be a site distance issue.” Having this sight distance issue could impede drivers’ ability to see traffic or crashes that may be hiding behind any higher median divide, she said. Now, I had a difficult time visualizing line of sight problems that may be caused by a double-decker median divide until I pictured Laurel Curve. When traveling northbound on the approach to Laurel Road, traffic on the northbound curvy incline would not be seen by approaching vehicles heading in the same direction. While that example is extreme, consider that Highway 17 is a winding road and that the line of sight of drivers traveling in either direction could be hampered by a taller median divide. Until an out-of-the-box idea that fixes the problem comes to light on this topic, night time drivers should follow the rules of the road as outlined by the California Driver Handbook:
  • Use your low beams on rainy nights.
  • Do not drive with only your parking lights on.
  • Use your high beams whenever possible as long as it is not illegal, such as in open country or on dark city streets. Do not blind other drivers with your high beam headlights. The California Vehicle Code (section 24409) requires drivers to dim their headlights when within 300 feet to the rear of the vehicle they’re following and 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle.
  • If an oncoming driver does not dim his or her lights, don’t look directly into their headlights; look toward the right edge of your lane; watch the oncoming car out of the corner of your eye; do not try to retaliate against the other driver by keeping your bright lights on. If you do, both of you may be blinded.
Learn more about driving at night at www.dmv.ca.gov.
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