An electronic highway sign reading “Drive Now, Text Later,” and “Speed Laws Enforced,” sitting off Highway 154 and Roblar Avenue, was not enough for Mary Beth Kerr and a small group of impassioned Santa Ynez Valley residents.
The group gathered late Wednesday afternoon, June 15, for a rally in the midst of rush hour to increase awareness about the tragic consequences of distracted and dangerous driving.
Positioned next to crosses symbolizing lost lives along the highway, rally-goers carried signs telling drivers “Not One More on 154.”
The rally was prompted by numerous crashes along the highway, one of the most recent being the head-on collision between a pickup truck and a big-rig carrying beer that resulted in major injuries.
Kerr is the founder of a growing Facebook group in the Valley titled “SYV Lives Matter! Project 1 = 4 Way Stop 154/ROBLAR” and an advocate for safer driving as well as safer road conditions on highways 154 and 246.
"There have been some improvements, but the numerous crashes, near misses and errant driving is raising red flags, and we want to press for greater safety," Kerr explained.
“When the accident happened between the pickup truck and the Bud Light truck in Los Olivos … a lot of folks started saying, ‘We need a meeting to get together and talk about this.’”
Over a year has passed since the group's last rally in the same location following two fatal accidents that occurred within 48 hours of each other.
Kerr said some changes have been made along Highway 154, but there are still a lot of safety measures that can be taken.
Kerr’s mission, and her Facebook group, calls for a four-way stop to be put in at Highway 154 and Roblar Avenue.
While she acknowledged “competing” conditions exist at various intersections along the highway, she said she also wants to figure out how to initiate a road study to determine where improvements are needed.
“The (California Highway Patrol) has been good, but they can’t get out and do the enforcing and patrolling we’d prefer,” Kerr said. “Signs do help.”
She added, “A lot of us are going, ‘We need a plan.’”
Kerr noted a "roundtable" of sorts will be held in the next few months to talk with community members who drive the highway daily and elected officials about what can be done to make the highway safer.
She added she hopes Caltrans and the CHP will be present.
Following the roundtable, she said, a public forum is in order for the community to vent and talk about solutions.
Ultimately, Kerr and the other rally-goers agreed a viable safety solution for Highway 154 is an increase in roundabouts because, unlike stop signs that people run through, they prevent speeding.
Joan Hartmann, who is running for 3rd District supervisor in Santa Barbara County, was at Wednesday’s rally out of concern for the safety of the roads in the area.
“We shouldn’t have anybody dying, but particularly young people,” Hartmann said. “I lived for years in the greater L.A. area, and I didn’t know anybody who lost children to deaths by cars. Here, I know five or six people.”
She added, “I think these rallies are important because, as Gloria Steinem once said, ‘It gets your blood going’ for those who are participating. We learn from each other, and it’s a reminder to others.”
For now, all the group can do is rally to continue drawing attention to the safety concerns.
I hope “they drive more mindfully,” Kerr said of drivers who passed the rally.
She concluded, “If it reaches one person, or a couple people, and they say, ‘Wow, this is dangerous,’ or ‘I’m contributing,’ things may change.”