POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 4, 2011
The horrific deaths of a Waianae woman and an 11-year-old boy and the injuries to six people in a five-vehicle crash have added to Kunia Road's long reputation as Oahu's most dangerous stretch of highway. The tragedy should provide an incentive for the state to examine the public safety risks of a dark country road that too many drivers use as a freeway.
Of course, few if any of the fatal or injurious crashes on the less than seven miles between the military fringes of Wahiawa to Royal Kunia can be blamed on road conditions. Instead, the remoteness of the two-lane, unlit stretch has led to reckless driving, including speeding and illegal passing, that has resulted in catastrophe.
In 2006, John J. Szemkow is reported to have crossed a solid yellow line in colliding with a pickup truck, resulting in the deaths of four farmworkers thrown from the pickup's bed on Kunia Road. A year earlier, Nestor Manzano Sr. and his teenage sons Edison and Nestor were killed when the car he was driving slammed into a flatbed truck. A month before that, Army Staff Sgt. Noel Rao was killed when his car left Kunia Road, sheared off a utility pole and landed on its roof.
From 1998 to 2000, a study by SMS Inc. counted 134 major crashes on Kunia Road, including 20 speed-related accidents resulting in 17 injuries and two deaths. Those totals were much higher per mile than busier roads, such as freeways and lengthy highways.
Police say the New Year's Day crash was caused by two of the drivers traveling "erratically and at a high rate of speed." It adds to the grim risk of using a narrow, unlit country road as a shortcut from Wahiawa to the booming residential areas of Ewa Beach and Kapolei.
The accident occurred on a nearly moonless night, at 6:55 p.m., as many area residents were returning from a holiday on the North Shore, although that may not be the case for the victims.
In past years, traffic investigators have said that people who take Kunia Road are often in a rush, trying to make it home quickly to Waipahu, Ewa Beach or Kapolei. They are under the exaggerated impression that Kunia Road will get them there faster than H-2, although the routes' differing speed limits should make the time differences insignificant.
Kunia Road has many long and straight stretches that some drivers take as an invitation to speed -- an ill-advised idea, since the road also contains sudden turns, hills and dips. To make matters worse, cars and trucks have been known to pull suddenly into the road from several access points in and out of adjacent farmland.
The state should examine Kunia Road's unusually dangerous characteristics in deciding whether to impose measures to control its traffic or expand the stretch into a full-fledged highway. Meanwhile, residents in that part of the island should choose the H-2 instead, especially at night.