It’s been all over the Bay Area news: A man in a big rig drove right off the side of the new S-curve in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and landed on Yerba Buena island. The accident killed him.
The S-curve has been in place since Labor Day weekend of this year. It’s part of the ongoing effort to create a new bridge side-by-side with the old bridge. It’s taking some time for drivers to get used to the change in the bridge, and the process will continue as the bridge continues to go through various phases of construction over the next several years. To avoid future accidents, Caltrans is putting up signs on the bridge warning of the new curve. But is that enough?
A short opinion piece in the East Bay Express thinks not. It’s author, Robert Gammon, suggests that Caltrans take the simple action of lowering the speed limit to 40 mph. He asserts that doing so will prevent drivers from having to slam on their brakes when they (and the drivers ahead of them) are surprised by the sudden curve in the road. With stepped up CHP presence to enforce the new speed, the curve could be made a little safer. Unfortunately, Caltrans currently doesn’t have any plans to reduce the speed on that part of the bridge.
While I agree that lowering the speed limit might offer some measure of added safety, it doesn’t seem like Caltrans wants to go that route. And I can sort of understand why. Even if drivers slow to 40 mph, they can still be caught unawares. The surprise of the curve will cause them to brake suddenly, even at 40 mph, and the cars behind them will find themselves suddenly slowing down as well. It’s this sudden slow-down that causes a chain reaction of more sudden slow-downs. And that wouldn’t be so bad, if all the drivers were paying attention. It’s a driver several cars back who will not be ready for the S-curve, and who will not expect traffic in front of him to come to a stand-still. This is the driver who must be vigilant. But really, the lesson is that we must all be vigilant whenever we drive, wherever we drive. There can be sudden road obstacles anywhere–something in the road, a pulled over vehicle, a pedestrian. These are the things we need to pay attention to to prevent accidents.
It’d certainly be nice to see a speed limit reduction on the bridge, but since it looks unlikely, I encourage everyone to slow down just a little, and to always be aware of your surroundings when driving.