Absence of Guardrail Costs Jenner, California the Lives of Two Special Children
Caltrans knows cars will go off the road. Caltrans knows it is more likely that cars will go off the road on curves than on straightaways. Caltrans knows that cars go off the road for many different reasons, mechanical defects, driver illness, animals or objects in the road causing a vehicle to swerve, substance on the pavement, slippery condition after or a during a rain, and driver error. Caltrans also knows that going off the road presents its own set of dangers. That is why Caltrans places guardrails.
According to the Caltrans Traffic Manual (2012) section 7-03.1:
Guardrail, installed to reduce the severity of run-off-road collisions, is the most common traffic safety system found on California State Highways. Guardrail may redirect an errant vehicle and dissipate energy from the collision in some, but not for all cases depending on the sequence of events during the collision. Although guardrail is itself a fixed object, it may reduce collision severity in situations where it is determined that striking the guardrail is less severe than striking fixed objects or slopes behind the guardrail.
In analyzing road safety, Caltrans’ criteria calls for it to determine: “whether a vehicle hitting guardrail is more severe than going over an embankment slope.” Caltrans even developed a criteria that examined the slope involved and developed what it calls the “Equal Severity Curve”, a tool to determine if it is more or less severe for the occupants to hit a guardrail than go over an embankment.
On August 23, 2016, Sarah Markus, of the tiny hamlet of Jenner, California was driving her pickup on SR 1 taking her two daughters, Kaitlyn, 6, and Hailey, 4, to school in Monte Rio. The road was wet with drizzle that locals call “heavy fog”. Within a minute of leaving home, Markus lost control on SR 1 and plunged down a 40-foot embankment into the Russian river. Frantically she tried to get her daughters and herself out of the submerged vehicle, but both girls tragically lost their lives.
According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, in 2010, a 62-year-old Agoura Hills woman drove into the river at the same point from Jenner, apparently missing the left curve into town.
I am familiar with this area. I have kayaked in the river below the road. I was there three weeks ago. Most people riding past the area would see the need for a guardrail that clearly meets the criteria of Caltrans.
The Brandi Law Firm has represented a number of people injured by Caltrans failing to provide the protective measures called for by sound traffic engineering and its own standards, including failure to have median barriers, guardrails, improper pavement, inadequate striping, inadequate signage, or simply not doing proper maintenance. Many accidents on our highways are preventable, and not just by better driving, but by following appropriate engineering standards. In this case, Caltrans knew cars go off the road, knew of at least one other incident at the same area, and knew that a guardrail at this location would save lives. If a guardrail had been present, most likely the only result would have been a scraped vehicle and scary stories to tell instead of the destruction of a family. If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto crash, our attorneys at The Brandi Law Firm are available to consult with you. Please contact our office at 800-481-1615 or email us.