In 2010, three motorcyclists died on the stretch of Ortega Highway between Lake Elsinore and Orange County. During that same year, 27 motorcyclists were reported injured on this same route this is so infamous for its dangerous curves and steep cliff edges.
“State Route 74 has a higher than usual number of motorcycle incidents,” said CHP Officer Nathan Baer of the OC to Lake Elsinore stretch. “And some incidents are never even reported. They just pick up their bikes and leave.”
The only other California route to have such high collateral damage for motorcyclists is the Angeles Crest Highway, better known as State Route 2, Baer said.
So far this year, Baer said that thanks to Ortega Highway safety enforcements and public awareness, crashes and fatalities have dropped here. In 2011, the Lake Elsinore-OC stretch has seen 13 injury collisions involving motorcycles with zero motorcycle fatalities.
On Sept. 3, Baer and three other CHP officers worked SR 74 near the El Cariso Fire Station to enforce safety. With such a high black-and-white presence, motorists were generally well behaved. But speeding tickets were still handed out to drivers who exceeded the reduced 45 mph limit through the El Cariso community, and some drivers got nabbed for failing to obey the maximum 55 mph limit on other parts of the roadway.
“If you’re going faster than 55 mph, you’re just wrong – it’s not safe,” Baer said. “If you speed, there’s a good chance you could crash up here.”
Or kill someone.
During a Patch ride-along with Baer, the long-time CHP veteran pulled in and out of driveways along the Ortega. Exiting out of the Hell’s Kitchen drive with Baer at the wheel, the visibility in either direction is just a few hundred feet.
Both Hell’s Kitchen and the Lookout Roadhouse further to the east are popular biker destinations along the Ortega.
“These are dangerous spots,” Baer said. “And imagine what it’s like for the residents here,” Baer said of the blind curves. “All of their driveways are like this. If someone comes speeding through, there’s a high chance of a crash.
“This is an easy road to get in over your head,” Baer continued, noting that for motorcyclists, the danger increases.
During the Sept. 3 ride-along, dozens of motorcyclists cruised through the area. Some came through slowly on Harley-Davidson roadsters, others zipped quicker on high-speed sport bikes.
“Seventy-eight percent of motorcycle crashes statewide are the fault of the motorcyclist,” Baer said. “They’re either experienced riders who hot-dog it and push too far, or they’re novice riders.”
Baer said novices should avoid the Ortega, but said ultimately the highway should be for everyone to enjoy.
“We want people to come up here and enjoy riding a motorcycle without getting hurt,” he said. “If people would just obey the rules of the road, we wouldn’t see so many crashes.”