The 7400 Block Curve:
Guard Rail or Guard Fail?

Highway 9 in the San Lorenzo Valley is a 2-lane state highway that runs north-south through the Santa Cruz mountains. Wipeout Alley is approximately 1.1 miles north of Graham Hill Rd. Speed limit is 35 MPH though this stretch of road. The only barrier between northbound traffic and residential parking is a short, flimsy guard rail system.

Since 2005, locals say at least a dozen cars have wiped-out here. A CalTrans spokesman acknowledged that this stretch of guard rail has indeed been repaired and replaced countless times. He couldn't guess the total number of times the meager guard rail system has been demolished and rebuilt.

So What is Causing all the Carnage?

Most crashes occur at night, most crashes involve a speeding vehicle, Many crashes involve an impaired motorist. The typical driver that crashes here is a male between 20 and 35 heading home on Saturday night. However, a Subaru driving little old lady crashed here one afternoon in April 2012. She suffered a medical emergency while driving and lost control. When her car left the road, it missed some parked vehicles, slammed into and knocked down a full new-growth redwood tree. She missed the guard rail completely.

When a crash takes out the guard rail (which has happened here at least 10 times), Caltrans has to remove the mangled metal pieces and repair the system.

Yet according to Caltrans, to minimize driver injuries when struck by a vehicle, this particular guard rail (and many like it across California) is designed to absorb the energy (i.e. collapse, crumple and break-away).

Hello, Caltrans - this stretch of guard rail will undoubtedly be hit again and as per design, it is guaranteed to fail again.

Besides being completely inadequate structurally, the guard rail is approximately 40 feet too short. It begins once a vehicle is well into the curve, which is well after the point where many reckless cars have actually left the road.

Conclusion: Caltrans must install a longer and stronger (perhaps concrete) guard rail at the 7400 Block Curve.

Wipeout Alley - Wipeouts:

Date of Crash: 06/17/2020, Wednesday morning, 03:05 am

Number of Parked Vehicles Involved: 3 (1 truck, 1 car and 1 motorcycle = 3 totaled).

Description:Early Wednesday morning, a CHP vehicle involved in a high-speed pursuit went flying off the road as the driver failed to properly negotiate the sweeping left turn at Wipeout Alley. After leaving the road, the Ford Explorer CHP vehicle first clipped the back right end of a parked Toyota Corolla. It then obliterated a parked GSXR motorcycle, before finally knocking a heavy lifted Chevy Tahoe some 50 feet off an embankment and down a hill. Incredibly, the flying Tahoe came to rest on the owners orange tree. The large truck would have wound up in the San Lorenzo River (just 50 feet below).

According to witnesses, the collision was the loudest they had ever heard at Wipeout Alley. Both CHP officers walked away from the crash, just as their car went up in flames (though both officers were eventually taken to hospitals for evaluation). A quick thinking homeowner grabbed his hose and extinguished the brush fire before it could spread to any of the new-growth redwood trees in the area. Wreckage from the crash was ejected over a hundred feet down the hill. Police estimated the vehicle was traveling between 80 and 90 MPH when the driver lost control and crashed.

CHP crash

Crashed CHP vehicle at Wipeout Alley

Poor Corolla

Tahoe lands on orange tree, hangs on edge of cliff.

CHP vehicle

Date of Crash: 08/13/2016, Saturday night, 11:45 pm

Number of Parked Vehicles Involved: 2 (1 totaled, 1 smashed good)

Description:Two parked vehicles were hit, one destroyed, when an impaired man speeding north on HWY 9 lost control of his Chevy Equinox as he entered Wipeout Alley. His vehicle veered off the road, smashed through 5 guard rail posts and, in spectacular fashion, hit a tree before taking out the two parked vehicles. The collision scattered wreckage almost 100 feet in all directions. Police estimated the vehicle was traveling around 80 MPH when it left the road, and wiped out. The driver was not seriously injured, but was arrested for DUI.

Chevy Equinox crashes into tree - Wipeout Alley

Chevy vs Toyota

Destroyed guard rail

Totally totaled

Date of Crash: 08/31/2014, Sunday, 11:52 PM

Number of Parked Vehicles Involved: 0

Description:A Subaru Forester driving at an unknown speed, almost made it through Wipeout alley only to spin out, crash and take out the last 20 feet of guardrail. The vehicle eventually came to a stop against a tree. The driver was not impaired but was ticketed for operating a vehicle at an unsafe speed.

Subaru fails Wipeout Alley

Subaru hits guard rail

Wipeout Alley - Statistics:

Since 2005, Number of Crashes at Wipeout Alley: 10 major crashes, 8 at the exact same spot (see image below).

Since 2005, Total Number of Parked Vehicles Hit VS. Totally Wiped Out: 13 / 10.

What is Causing all the Wipeouts at the 7400 Block Curve? Well, speeding and drinking. Most of the crashes can be blamed on impaired drivers who were unable to negotiate this particular horizontal right-to-left curve on NB HWY 9.

The above image, looking south on HWY 9, shows how easy it is for a careless driver to veer off the road. Note the crumpled guard rail on the far right.

This image shows the path and destruction left by the impaired driver of a large Dodge Ram truck that smashed right through the existing guard rail.

UPDATE: Spring 2014: CalTrans tries to make good. A CalTrans crew recently came out and installed reflective "candles" and markers along the curve.

UPDATE: Summer 2016: Of the dozen "road candles" installed in 2014, only 1 remains. Guard rail knocked down again.

Caltrans has not erected a longer and stronger guard rail (or concrete barrier) at the point where vehicles leave the road. Adding 40 feet to the existing guard rail would probably resolve this dangerous situation.