MALIBU, Calif. — Some scenes are quintessentially California, and the Pacific Coast Highway brings two together: cars and the Pacific Ocean’s glistening waves.

The PCH is known all over the world — and it’s a tourist destination for millions. But Sgt. James Arens with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sees another side to the PCH. He is stationed at the Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s station and says speeding is a big problem in the area.

“We need to work together as a team to make sure we are making change, and we need to reach out to kids to show them the dangers of driving intoxicated or excessively fast,” he said.  

Since 2010, 59 people have been killed on the PCH, and Sgt. Arens was one of the first people on the scene on Oct. 17, 2023, when four Pepperdine University students — Niamh Rolston, Peyton Stewart, Asha Weir and Deslyn Williams — were killed in a crash caused by a driver going excessively fast.

On Christmas Eve 2023, Arens responded again to a crash: A motorcyclist was killed when a car pulled out of a driveway.

“You never get used to it,” he said.

The deaths have driven the community of Malibu to demand action, but many have found that when speed is the issue, the process of changing laws can be painfully slow. The Malibu Sheriff’s department has increased traffic stops and hired on more deputies. They say they’re working to increase awareness about potential dangers on the highway. The real structural change has to come from Caltrans because the Pacific Coast Highway is overseen by the state, not by local government.

In Dec. 2023, California’s Secretary of Transportation Toks Omishakin visited the PCH — the visit was part of the state’s commitment to creating a safety corridor in Malibu. Omishakin said PCH was an area the state was focusing on.

“It’s very rare that someone in my role comes out specifically to a corridor, to a project location like this. But I’ve seen the data, I’ve seen the information and the recent tragedy that took place on Oct. 17 led to me to say, no, this has to become a top priority,” said Omishakin.

In a press conference on Dec. 18, Omishakin said the state was committed to installing 13 speed feedback signs at 10 locations, enhancing striping at curbs, optical speed bars at 10 locations, speed limit markings on the pavements and more.

Spectrum News reached out to Caltrans to understand how many of these improvements had been made. In a statement, Caltrans said: “The state has made improving safety on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Malibu a top priority, with infrastructure enhancements that reduce speed, provide more visual cues to drivers, and increase pedestrian visibility and access.”

Caltrans also included a list of projects that are underway: adding 41,000 linear feet of retroflective striping, refreshing 43 crosswalks with new paint, adding temporary speed feedback signs at 13 locations and adding 44 pedestrian countdown signals. Caltrans has said they expect these improvements to be completed by April of this year.

Some community members say it’s not enough and that these improvements should have been made years ago. Malibu resident Michel Shane’s daughter Emily was killed by a speeding, out-of-control driver in 2010. She was 13 years old. Shane is the producer of a documentary about the dangers of the PCH, "21 Miles in Malibu."

“I really think the government has to get together to figure out a plan and not another five-year study,” he said.

Shane believes significant engineering changes must be made.

“What Caltrans has to do is, they’ve got to get with engineers and look at a portion of PCH and figure out how to redesign it, so that we have no choice but to slow down,” he said.

Shane believes the combination of engineering and education is what will finally make a difference on PCH. Sgt. Arens says he hopes PCH becomes safer for everyone.

“People should be able to drive down the road and not be in fear that they’re going to get into an accident,” he said.