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How dangerous is the 178 through the Kern River Canyon?

Using data provided by the California Highway Patrol, 23ABC looks at the frequency of car crashes on the 178 through the canyon over the past five years
Posted at 2:11 PM, Jul 01, 2024

KERN RIVER CANYON, Calif. (KERO) — Using data provided by the California Highway Patrol, 23ABC looks at the frequency of car crashes on the 178 through the canyon over the past five years.

  • The 178 through the canyon is a two lane highway that features a 15 mile stretch where no passing is allowed.
  • 23ABC looked at statistics regarding traffic accidents on the 178 through the Kern River Canyon from 2019-2023.
  • According to statistics provided by the California Highways Patrol, over the past 5 years there have been 368 traffic accidents on this road resulting in 20 fatalities.

    BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT:

“I’ve driven the canyon hundreds of times, personally.”
Kathy Dunn spent her childhood coming up to the Kern River Valley to fish and camp with her family. As child, driving through the canyon made her uncomfortable.

“The windy roads, and looking over the edge and seeing the water and everything.”

She ended up moving to the Kern River Valley over ten years ago. Hundreds of trips up and down the canyon went without issue for Dunn – but that changed in June 2022.

“My mom and I were on our way in Bakersfield and unfortunately we were involved in a head-on collision and my mom was killed.”

A car going the opposite direction crossed the double yellow lines and struck Dunn’s car head on.

“It will forever be on my heart and on my mind, as I drive down the canyon.”

There have been an average of four fatalities due to car accidents in the canyon over the past five years - behind that number are real people.

CHP Statistics Regarding Accidents on the 178 through the canyon 2019-2023

“My mom was adventurous, she was feisty, very feisty. And just a wonderful person, a wonderful friend, she had more friends than you could imagine. From all over the world.”

Dunn has seen firsthand how quickly the 178 through the canyon can turn deadly, and she told me she wants to tell her story to encourage others to drive the canyon safely.

“It’s not that it’s a dangerous road, we don’t see these roads as dangerous at all, it’s just that we have a lot of unsafe drivers,” said Tomas Martinez, a Public Information Officer for the California Highway Patrol.

Tomas Martinez has worked for the CHP for over ten years and has personally responded to accidents in the canyon.

“Sometimes they drive too fast or they make these unsafe turning movements or they do it to pass a lot of these double yellow lines that they're not supposed to pass.”

Confident drivers who have driven the canyon hundreds of times are mixed in with tourists who may be nervous and driving the road for the first time.

“Take a breath, reel yourself in. Nothing, nothing is more important than your life or someone else's,” Dunn said.

Dunn is forever changed by the accident but despite the accident and the fears she had as a child - she can still find joy in the scenery.

“As an adult, you see the beauty, you look beyond that, and see the beauty of the canyon. And that’s what I really try to reflect upon.”


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