Highway Fines Double on Hwy 4 and 37

Fatal collisions and traffic citations along two of the Bay Area’s most dangerous highways have plummeted since a new law imposed double fines on drivers who break traffic laws.

Motorists are slowing down on Highway 4 in Contra Costa County and Highway 37 in Solano and Sonoma counties.

Some 26 people have died in accidents on Highway 37 in the past five years; 13 have been killed on Highway 4.

So far in 1996, however, only one person has died on each highway. Both accidents involved solo vehicles in which a drunken driver lost control.

“That kind of accident can happen anywhere,” said California Highway Patrol spokesman Cliff Kroeger, who oversees the specially designated zone of Highway 4, a four-mile stretch from Hercules near Interstate 80 to Cummings Skyway in Rodeo.

CHP officials are attributing the reduction in bad accidents on both highways in part to a law passed last year. The measure designates parts of the two highways as special driving zones in which drivers who break the rules face double the time in jail or double fines.

Speeding tickets that would normally range from $80 to $150 instead range from $160 to $300.

But the success on Highway 37 is also because of the installation of a concrete barrier along a part of the dangerous stretch and the elimination of the road’s passing lanes.

“Most of the accidents occurred around the passing lanes,” said Fred Wold, a Solano County spokesman for the CHP. “Now drivers are restricted to driving at a moderate rate and not making any passes.”

Drivers say the barrier, which was installed on only part of the 22-mile highway, has provided a sense of security.

“You can tell that drivers seem more comfortable with that center divider. They slow down when it’s gone,” said Michelle Norman, an employee at Sears Point Raceway, who uses Highway 37 to go from her Vallejo home to work and back. She says that the road definitely seems safer.

However, the barrier has also restricted the CHP from snagging drivers who break the law, because officers no longer can make U-turns.

Highway 37 is the main thoroughfare running along San Pablo Bay connecting Marin and Sonoma counties and Highway 101 with Solano County and Interstate 80. An estimated 35,000 vehicles use the road on any given weekday.

The specially designated zones on the two highways are two lanes, one in each direction. The worst accidents, which claimed multiple victims, have been head-on or broadside collisions in which one vehicle has crossed over into one or more oncoming cars, according to the CHP.

Although no barrier has been placed on Highway 4, the median yellow-line dividers were painted on more thickly and reinforced with jagged strips that rattle tires of vehicles that veer too far to the left.

The CHP also reports issuing fewer citations this year, partly because last year it maintained intense campaigns on both roads to raise drivers’ awareness of the dangers.

Last year, the CHP issued 1,557 tickets on Route 37 from January to July. This year, the number of tickets dropped to 155 for the same months.

Similarly, CHP officers wrote 308 tickets last year on Highway 4 from January to July. This year, the number dropped to 85.

By Suzanne Espinosa Solis, Chronicle East Bay Bureau

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