Two serious accidents within days of each other on the Midcoast between Highway 1’s Capistrano and Coronado intersections have left some in the community wondering whether there could be some common cause.

Some point to an inappropriate speed limit, some blame older drivers, and still others pin the accidents on a dangerous strip of highway.

If a roadway or intersection is plagued by chronic accidents, California Highway Patrol assesses whether the area has a flaw that’s causing the problem. When Moss Beach resident Judy Zilber died in a head-on collision at Highway 1 and Coronado Street on Jan. 7, there was no identifiable cause for the accident. So CHP, which services about 80 percent of San Mateo County, is investigating to gain better understanding of what happened.

“At this point we don’t know what caused her to turn into the oncoming lane,” said Art Montiel, CHP spokesman. “We are looking for witnesses, anyone that may have seen her driving.”

CHP doubts drugs or alcohol were involved. Unless there are ongoing, frequent crashes public agencies won’t know if something is wrong with the roadway, Montiel said.

Even with an additional crash reported on Jan. 10, CHP experts don’t think there is something wrong with the intersection, Montiel said. The more likely answer, he said, is motorists aren’t doing what they’re supposed to behind the wheel.

“A lot of people think the roadway is considered dangerous, but it’s not the road that is dangerous but the way a person drives on that roadway,” Montiel said.

“Each stretch of roadway has a designated speed limit, and when you exceed that limit, that’s when it’s dangerous to drive on that roadway. In this sense, it’s the speeding that makes it unsafe,” he said.

The Midcoast Community Council, which often addresses Highway 1 safety, brought CHP Capt. Mike Maskarich to its Jan. 12 meeting to talk about whether there are any systemic factors behind the recent spate of accidents.

It turns out accident statistics for Highway 1 (in the sector in San Mateo County from about a mile south of Devil’s Slide to the end of San Mateo County line, excluding Half Moon Bay city limits), are actually in decline. There were 26 accidents and no fatalities on Highway 1 and its connecting roadways in 2008. There were 27 accidents and no fatalities in 2009, and last year there were 18 accidents and no fatalities.

Maskarich said he’d like to attribute the decline last year to high visible presence of CHP officers and other safety measures like radar detectors and educating the public. But he conceded that sometimes it’s “just an anomaly.”

“I looked at (the data) personally for 2010 and didn’t see any positive factors that would indicate a pattern,” Maskarich said. “We were all over the board, everything from unsafe speeds, turns, driving under the influence.”

CHP hasn’t seen a depreciable decline in traffic volume, and, if anything, there is a slight increase as more people travel to the coast, Maskarich said.

The two accidents so far this year aren’t included in these statistics. Although these statistics don’t warrant a special report, MCC member Len Erickson said if CHP begins to notice a pattern, it will respond as needed.

The traffic issues at Coronado, Capistrano and other coastal intersections will be addressed by the recently formed Highway 1 Citizens Committee that Erickson co-chairs.

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