• The End of the Road in Malibu •
There is no mistaking what has happened when a large truck goes into the bluff below the office buildings at the south end of Kanan Dume Road. There's the thud that accompanies the immediate physical impact, and then there is silence. I've experienced that five times, twice with the added sound of spasms of crumpled metal, indicating the involvement of additional vehicles in the intersection at Pacific Coast Highway that resulted in several deaths, in addition to that of the truck driver.
The delivery truck that the sheriff's department says was illegally on Kanan last Wednesday did not make it to the intersection. This time the alert was the sound of metal upon metal and sirens, as emergency equipment rushed to the scene where, once again, a truck driver lost his life. He had passed almost two-dozen signs alerting him to the fact that he shouldn't be on the road, the grade is steep, brakes need checking, and there is an escape lane for runaway vehicles. None of this information prevented a southbound truck experiencing brake failure from becoming an out-of-control missile capable of devastating anything in its path.
The human survival instinct is strong, especially when accessed from the subconscious, and will reject what is seen as a catch-22 for an option that offers even the slightest glimmer of hope. In the seconds between brake failure and the need to take action, drivers don't debate the alternatives of Scylla and Charybdis; they just want to try to bring their vehicles to a halt. The existing escape lane is viewed by some truckers as more dangerous than trying to veer right or make a right-hand turn on PCH without hitting anyone because they fear that if they go into the arrestor bed and hit the sand-filled barrels head-on, their load will shift forward and they will be crushed just as surely as if they had gone headfirst into the bluff.
In the 1980s, the Malibu Surfside News joined ranks with citizens concerned about accidents and served as the catalyst in an effort to convince Los Angeles County to make Kanan safer. In 1988, a half-million dollars was allocated for the arrestor bed project, including the warning signal lights at the intersection. Some found the design wanting, but the county said that this was what it could afford. But what if it didn't work? Some of us had met with county and trucking company representatives and the preference was for an escape option located on the right side that was longer and curved upward, allowing the laws of physics to be as favorable for driver survival and avoidance of other vehicles as possible. This would have cost more and required the acquisition of private property.
Without an escape lane that is capable of bringing a truck with a 5-, 10-, or, in last week's case, a 17.5-ton load to a safe halt, there should be a ban on all southbound trucks on Kanan with more than two axles and weighing more than four tons, including those making local deliveries. The pretense that signage and the arrestor bed are adequate responses to the predicament that overloaded and questionably maintained vehicles are illegally using Kanan to save time, or a few gallons of gas, has to end. The next time a runaway truck commandeers the intersection of Kanan and PCH, in addition to the driver's life possibly being lost; pedestrians, a van packed with Little Leaguers, or a crowded bus, might be among those paying the ultimate price.