As a way to raise awareness of the dangers of homeowners fleeing their mortgages en masse, the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has introduced a warning sign to be posted on Interstates 5, 15 and 805 and State Route 163 to alert motorists.
“What we want is for motorists to slow down,” said Frank Ortega, the Caltrans engineer who developed the sign, which depicts a family of four running across the freeway in a desperate attempt to outrace creditors, a set of house keys tossed to the wind. “Other signs just weren't working, so we designed a simple visual graphic in an effort to get motorists to keep their eyes open.”
The majority of the signs will be deployed by freeway exits in and around Chula Vista.
California Highway Patrol Officer Robert Garcia thinks the signs are a step in the right direction.
“There's been a huge upswing of near-fatalities in the last year,” he said, “and the I-5 corridor is almost always littered with the detritus of their broken dreams. Fortunately, no one's been killed, but you try cleaning up a high-definition TV after a semi's run through it.”
Garcia said the fleeing families typically reject any offers of help.
“Usually when we find these guys, they're panicked—they're confused and disoriented. Most of the time, they won't even talk to us. We're the ones trying to help the poor critters, but when they see the badge, they start running again.”
Garcia said that, often, the families are headed for the beach, searching for migrant-worker camps in the desert or making the run all the way to Mexico. He said the signs should reduce the number of traffic accidents caused by the exodus of former homeowners.
While law enforcement has praised the new signs, some find the visual impact offensive. Terence Baines, a former futures trader, is one of them.
“I've got a $2-million mortgage for a four-bedroom ranch house and am up to my ears in debt,” Baines said, interviewed at the second hole at the Torrey Pines Golf Course, where he was in a dispute with security.“To be depicted on a freeway sign as if I were a common animal is just dehuman-izing.”
This story was part of our April Fool's Day issue of 2009. Don't believe it.