Q I and about eight other drivers had the unfortunate luck of hitting a black couch lying in the middle of Highway 101 about 9 p.m. one night last week in Gilroy. Of the eight cars involved, about half were left inoperable from the encounter.
Of course the party who "dropped" the couch was nowhere to be found. When the CHP arrived we all asked the officer how we could get a copy of the accident report for insurance purposes. To our amazement he told us he could write a report but we would be found at fault for "driving an unsafe speed in hazardous conditions."
A I bet that indeed came as a surprise.
Q As we all stared at each other baffled, he said fair or not, that is how the traffic code is written. He said if we had been following the truck and actually seen the couch fall out and been able to identify the culprit vehicle, that would be a different story.
This obviously defies common sense. I can understand if we had been driving 90 mph during a rainstorm how that could be characterized as negligent behavior, but that does not compare to hitting a black couch in the middle of the freeway at night. As eight drivers can attest, sometimes there is no safe distance when you unexpectedly encounter a camouflaged obstruction in the most unexpected place.
A This has puzzled me for years. I'll let Jaime-the-CHP-Man explain what the law says:
"As far as hitting an object on the roadway, there are many factors that may determine the cause or party at fault of a collision. The basic speed law 22350 of the California Vehicle Code states that 'no persons shall travel at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway ...' which would technically mean that if there is a stationary object on the roadway, the driver should be driving at a speed and safe distance from the vehicle in front of them to which they could take evasive action and avoid a collision.
"This is generally accepted for most stationary objects on the roadway and is based on the officer's opinion, whether the person (or people in this case) should have been able to avoid this object. There are instances when an officer may determine that the driver would have no way to avoid a collision. This can be determined by several factors, including but not limited to, the time of day (daylight vs. darkness), the size, color, and visibility of the object, the lighting of the area, the amount of traffic, etc."
As for the people involved in the couch collision, you can go to the nearest CHP office and file a "counter report." A counter report is not investigated by the CHP, but it will ensure that the incident is documented. If the responsible party is located, the people that filed counter reports should be notified.
Q If you have a brake or taillight out, that is clearly an offense. But what about all the cars that have one of their daylight running lights out? Can they get a ticket for that?
A No. Daytime running lights are a safety feature and are not required lighting devices, as are brake and taillights. So if daytime running lights don't work, that's OK.
Q I spend a great deal of time driving the highways of the Bay Area and have never read my question posted in all my years reading Roadshow. When a highway sign indicates 17 miles to San Jose or 25 miles to San Francisco, what are they referring to? Is it the city border line, the city downtown area or what? Please enlighten me.
A Stay with me and be enlightened. It refers to the center -- usually the downtown -- area of the city ahead.
Q I really liked the comment about the traffic enforcement at Grant Road and El Camino Real in Mountain View. I live very close to that intersection, and right-turn violations are rampant and dangerous. It amazes me that, even after seeing a southbound El Camino car making a U-turn, cars continue into the intersection to make their right from westbound 237. Even with the word out, I suspect the Mountain View police will have plenty of business.
A And ...
Q You can also warn readers that CHP has been targeting eastbound 237 around Middlefield Road. The speed limit is 55 until 101 and there are lots of cars speeding at that spot.
A Speeders, beware.