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Public Safety

Does Driving in the Rain Drive You Crazy? Slow Down for Safety, CHP Says

With El Niño rains making travel perilous, common-sense planning and strategy can help keep you out of danger

Garden Street in Santa Barbara was temporarily closed Jan. 5 after minor flooding during El Niño rains. Click to view larger
Garden Street in Santa Barbara was temporarily closed Jan. 5 after minor flooding during El Niño rains. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

As the first big rains of the season pounded Santa Barbara County last week, public-safety responders were confronted by falling rocks, rivers of mud and a jack-knifed semi truck on Highway 101.

The steady, back-to-back El Niño storms caused a host of crashes on local highways, giving law enforcement officials an opportunity to remind drivers about what it takes to be safe in such weather.

Whenever heavy rains are predicted, California Highway Patrol Officer Jonathan Gutierrez said, “we know it’s going to be a hard day.”

“Unfortunately, Californians aren’t used to driving in the rain,” he said.

Gutierrez has weathered many storms during his tenure with the CHP, and had some pointers for how drivers can do the same.

The No. 1 tip? Slow down.

“It’s a simple matter of physics that your vehicle can’t stop as fast or turn as accurately on wet pavement,” Gutierrez said.

Leaving early with plenty of time to arrive at a destination is key for drivers, who should also keep their gas tanks full.

Windshield wipers should be replaced if needed, he said, and brakes and fluids should be checked on a regular basis.

Tire treads also need to be checked, and Gutierrez recommended conducting a “penny test” to see whether a tread is deep enough to be safe.

The worst time to break down is during heavy weather, he said, adding that towing services are usually overwhelmed with collisions and response times are longer as a result.

Highway 101 flooding was reported south of Carpinteria near the Solimar Fire burn area Jan. 5, shutting down the freeway’s southbound lanes for several hours. Click to view larger
Highway 101 flooding was reported south of Carpinteria near the Solimar Fire burn area Jan. 5, shutting down the freeway’s southbound lanes for several hours. (KEYT photo)

Driving with ample space behind the vehicle ahead is also important.

“You never know who’s going to over-correct or make a sudden stop,” he said.

State law requires motorists to turn on their headlights whenever windshield wipers are used continuously.

If a driver must stop, getting off the freeway when safe is encouraged, because “it’s still pretty dangerous” to be parked on the shoulder, Gutierrez said.

Flashing lights from a sidelined vehicle can also distract other drivers, he added.

During rainstorms, there are perennial problem areas for the CHP, as well as Caltrans, which works to keep the roadways clear.

Storms tend to bring rock falls along Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass and on Highway 101 in the canyon near the Gaviota tunnel, as well as on Highway 1 near Lompoc.

Pooling water can be an issue anywhere, and even a small amount can cause a vehicle to hydroplane.

Gutierrez recalled driving into the intersection of Calle Real and Fairview Avenue in Goleta several years ago and seeing four or five cars trapped when their engines stalled in rising floodwaters.

“From the looks of it, you wouldn’t realize there’s a dip right there,” he said of the submerged area.

Because freeways will often flood nearest to the roadway edges, drivers should avoid outside lanes on the right, particularly at night, he said.

He advised avoiding bodies of standing water and taking familiar routes.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Santa Barbara County firefighters rescued eight people, including six chidlren from a minivan, at the flooded intersection of Calaveras Avenue and Calle Real near Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta on Jan. 6. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County firefighters rescued eight people, including six chidlren from a minivan, at the flooded intersection of Calaveras Avenue and Calle Real near Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta on Jan. 6. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

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