Troopers tally 500 tickets on California’s I-5 Grapevine

April 11, 2022

Chuck Robinson


The California Highway Patrol recently issued 500 citations to commercial vehicles on the Grapevine at the end of March. There was a Facebook post letting the world know that yes, indeed, they did it.

To someone on the sidelines, it seems unsporting, but for a driver having to negotiate the steep grade and traffic of that stretch of I-5, the enforcement blitz illustrates so many things that are wrong. Among them, California’s insane split speed differential for cars and big trucks, the stupid and dangerous lane restrictions for tractor-trailers, and the gotcha mentality of speed traps like this one.

Yeah, there are some choice words to use other than “unsporting” but let’s go with that.

The citations were issued from March 15 through March 24 along the Grapevine corridor. Of some 700 contacts, almost 500 drivers were cited for out of lane and/or speed violations, the Fort Tejon, Grapevine Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facility and Central Division Commercial Unit of the California Highway Patrol reported on Facebook.

The stretch of road called the Grapevine runs via the Grapevine Canyon through Tejon Pass. It is at the bottom of the grade where the I-5 enters the San Joaquin Valley in Kern County. It is a major traffic artery for Los Angeles.

The busy Grapevine (I-5 from Fort Tejon Road to Grapevine Road) has a 6% grade that sees a lot of commercial vehicles. The northbound lanes have a 35 mph commercial speed zone that is strictly enforced. There are two escape ramps, one to the east of the interstate and one to the west.

We’re not in Mayberry

The enforcement blitz calls to mind part of an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” in which Deputy Barney Fife has taken charge and ticketed a truck for speeding at the bottom of a steep grade. Sheriff Andy Taylor patiently explained to wild-eyed Deputy Fife how the truck driver needed a little speed at the bottom in order to get up the other side, so law enforcement needs to cut truck drivers a little slack.

Life was different in the 1960s in fictional Mayberry, N.C., than it is now in California. Or anywhere, sure, but especially California.

Implying that the law enforcement officers are a bunch of Deputy Barney Fifes also is unsporting, so apologies to the troopers. As is often the case, they are put in a tough situation.

Real-life issues

While truckers have to ratchet down to 35 mph, other traffic zips along at speed limit of 65 mph. That can cause some disastrous interactions between passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers.

The 35 mph speed limit, or maybe 45 mph if they would allow it, seems acceptable if you’re hauling a fully loaded 80,000 pounds. If you’re running empty, 35 mph has to be frustrating even if it’s a long hill

If a driver misses the 35 mph signs, they can get nailed for speeding and nicked with a serious federal traffic violation for going more than 15 mph over the speed limit.

A design flaw obvious to truck drivers is the placement of one of the runaway ramps. It is on the left side going north. Since trucks are required to stay in the right two lanes, it becomes a safety issue when a driver has to work their way all the way to the left when he or she is already in an emergency situation.

At the minimum, passenger vehicles should be instructed to stay in left lanes.

Issues magnified

It is a stretch of highway where drivers need to be mindful, for certain. Some drivers who have never gone down the Grapevine incline can get in trouble if they top the hill in too high of a gear. You don’t do that twice, I bet. And this situation isn’t like Mayberry in the sitcom. We’re not talking about one or two trucks on the road, are we?

Yet it does draw into stark contrast some glaring problems. The 30 mph differential between tractor-trailers and passenger vehicles is a magnified version of the speed differential of 55 mph for big trucks and 65 mph for cars that is status quo on the rest of California’s interstate highways.

And limiting truck traffic to right lanes is a problem here and elsewhere. Here especially because the emergency runaway truck lane is on the other side of the roadway. Beyond the Grapevine, though, limiting big trucks to the right lanes clogs up the lanes where vehicles are entering and exiting the highway. During high traffic times, vehicles must come to a complete stop and wait to get on the highway. That increases the number of traffic accidents and traffic backups.

California lawmakers and state officials don’t get trucking, that is certain. And troopers are stuck having to enforce rules because of misguided safety efforts. I wish I didn’t imagine them doing it with glee, though. And I wish it was as obvious to those in power to make changes as it is to a duffer like me that some basic changes are needed. LL

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