Cover photo: Old Yungas Road
To assist our readers who do a lot of highway travelling the Travelling Adventurer Magazine has researched numerous sources to compile information as to the most dangerous highways in the United States and the rest of the world. Firstly, we present info on many of the world’s most dangerous and unique roads, followed by America’s most dangerous highways.
Imagine driving down a scenic road in some exotic, far-flung locale when around the bend the railing disappears, the road narrows to practically a trail, and thousands of feet below — if you squint — you can see the skeletal remains of cars long lost. Yes, sometimes the road less taken is less taken for a reason. And in the case of these 12, it’s because they may very well kill you.
Old Yungas Road
We’d rather hitchhike the Highway to Hell than take our chances on Old Yungas Rd (aka: “The Death Road”), considered the most dangerous in the world. The 40-mile stretch linking La Paz to Coroico hugs cliffs that overlook a sprawling canyon and features so many sharp turns that you’d think drivers would putter along at 10mph rather than take a chance. They don’t. More than 200 people a year fall to their death in trucks, cars, and public buses.
The North Yungas Road (alternatively known as Grove’s Road, Coroico Road, Camino de las Yungas, Road of fate or Death Road) is a 61-kilometre (38 mi) or 69-kilometre (43 mi) road leading from La Paz to Coroico, 56 kilometers (35 mi) northeast of La Paz in the Yungas region of Bolivia.
It is legendary for its extreme danger and in 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank christened it as the “world’s most dangerous road.”
One estimate is that 200 to 300 travellers are killed yearly along the road. The road includes crosses marking many of the spots where vehicles have fallen.
A South Yungas Road (Chulumani Road) exists that connects La Paz to Chulumani, 64 kilometers (40 mi) east of La Paz, and is considered to be nearly as dangerous as the North Road.
It is one of the few routes that connects the Amazon rainforest region of northern Bolivia, or Yungas, to its capital city. Upon leaving La Paz, the road first ascends to around 4,650 meters (15,260 feet) at La Cumbre Pass, before descending to 1,200 meters (3,900 feet at the town of Coroico, transiting quickly from cool Altiplano terrain to rainforest as it winds through very steep hillsides and atop cliffs.
Because of the extreme drop-offs of at least 600 meters (1,830 feet), single-lane width – most of the road no wider than 3.2 meters (10 feet and lack of guard rails, the road is extremely dangerous.
Further still, rain, fog and dust can reduce visibility. In many places the road surface is muddy, and can loosen rocks from the road.
The danger of the road ironically made it a popular tourist destination starting in the 1990s, drawing some 25,000 thrill seekers. Mountain biking enthusiasts in particular have made it a favorite destination for downhill biking since there is a 64-kilometre (40 mi) stretch of continuous downhill riding with only one short uphill section. There are now many tour operators catering to this activity, providing information, guides, transport, and equipment. At least 18 cyclists have died on the ride since 1998.
The road was built in the 1930s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners.
The Yungas Road was modernized during a 20 year period ending in 2006. The modernization included enlarging the carriageway from one to two lanes, constructing asphalt pavement, and building a new section between Chusquipata and Yolosa, bypassing to the north one of the most dangerous sections of the old ‘Death Road’.
This new route features modern construction (bridges, drainage, etc.), multiple lanes, pavement, guardrails, and many other elements that make it considerably safer than the original route.
The original North Yungas Road is currently much less used by traffic, although an increasing number of adventure travelers bike it for the thrills.
On July 24,1983, a bus veered off the Yungas Road and into a canyon, killing more than 100 passengers in what is said to be Bolivia’s worst road accident.
Just like Old Yungas Road, the 155-mile Karnali Hwy in the Himalayas of West Nepal is a death wish (approximately 50 people die there a year). The dirt road’s surface is so bad that even cyclists who flock there for the stunning views are often like, “maybe not today.” And as you can imagine, vehicles that attempt to drive the road tend to slide on patches of dirt, choke on steep climbs, and generally get f*cked up from one too many potholes.
Considered one of the most scenic road trips in Europe, the Atlantic Rd has its dark moments. The five-mile highway links islands between Kristansund and Molde, boasts eight bridges, and has an infamous stretch along the ocean that gets battered by massive waves and fierce winds during storms. Conditions get crazy enough that you’ll wish you stayed in Oslo.
Vitim River Bridge
You’d think Vitim River Bridge would be called “VICTIM River Bridge,” considering its reputation as one of the scariest roads in the world. But lucky enough, there have been NO reported fatalities on the road. Which seems strange until you realize just how few people dare to drive here. The answer is… not many. The super-old structure is barely wide enough for a standard car and there are no railings — just iced over decaying wood (it is Siberia, after all) that could collapse at any moment.
Guoliang Tunnel Road
The literal English translation for the mile-long Guoliang Tunnel Rd is “Road that tolerates no mistakes.” Built by 13 local villagers in the Taihang Mountains (many of whom died during construction), the chiseled mountain tunnel measures only 15 feet high by 12feet wide but rocks insane views of the Chinese landscape through 30 “windows” that were cut out of the cliff. Not only is it one of the steepest roads in the world, but it’s become one of the area’s top tourist attractions to be visited… on foot.
James Dalton Highway
If we’ve learned anything from Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel, it’s that the roads in Alaska suck. And the most infamous sucky road is the James Dalton Hwy, a 414-mile passage between the Arctic Sea oil fields and civilization. Winter is unfortunately peak season for drivers, and high winds and icy conditions turn the road into a Slip’N Slide for truckers.
This road isn’t high in mountains, bridged low over water, or even riddled with sharp turns. In fact, it’s just a normal 7.5-mile urban highway, and a wide one at that with up to 18 lanes. But to locals, its known as “Killer Highway” due to the high number of casualties and fatalities — thousands of deaths per year actually — that result from the heavy volume of traffic. A poor drainage system (which leads to heavy flooding during storms), hundreds of motorbikes — that tour buses can’t see — and even pedestrians walking nearby help contribute to the number crazy number of accidents.
Federal Highway 1
This road is straight up loco. Spanning 1,000 miles along the Baja Peninsula, and heavily used by freight trucks transporting goods to remote towns and villages, the road snakes through the mountains and along cliffs. It’s a heart stopper on its own, but what’s even scarier: drivers don’t need to pass a driving test in six Mexican states, meaning you could possibly be sharing that road with texting-addicted amateurs.
Nanga Parbat Pass
The road conditions on the 10-mile Nanga Parbat Pass (aka Fairy Meadows Rd) is a recipe for death: high altitude (10,000ft above sea level, so bring your chlorophyll tablets) combined with unstable, graveled roads combined with narrow passages all mean that you’re in for a wild ride. Oh yeah, there are no guardrails. And a steep, six-mile ascent. And did we mention it’s all gravel?
Rodovia de Morte is known as the highway of Death to Brazilians and not because the 2,700-mile stretch is in poor condition. In fact, it’s acceptable. Poorly maintained, but acceptable. What makes this road dangerous is the unstable weather and some steep cliffs that cause major accidents. Still, that’s not even what makes it super dangerous. No, what takes it to the next level is the fact that the road extends through some of the sketchiest, most poverty-stricken parts of the country. And gangs/bandits are stationed in several spots along the busy route. Detour please?
At 9,045ft up in the Alps, the Stelvio Pass is one of the most scenic drives in the world — the views are immense and insane. But appreciating those vistas may cost you; the 180-degree corners are dangerous, the concrete barriers low, and winter brings icy roads and slick conditions. One wrong move could send you over the cliffs.
Located in “the Valley of Death,” this notorious road is highly trafficked by the Taliban and attacks are de rigueur — so don’t expect an easy, breezy drive. Even still, the narrow mountain passes that always seem to be full of oversized freight trucks are just as frightening.
AMERICA’S WORST KILLER ROADS:
Slaughter Alley is an American colloquial name given for sections of highway known for a high rates of fatal accidents. Other terms include Blood Alley, Massacre Mountain, Killer Highway (Canada) and Route de la Mort (France) and El Camino de la Muerte (Bolivia).
Many sections of roads have been known as “Slaughter Alley” and local residents may disagree on where “Slaughter Alley” actually is or was. Many famous “Slaughter Alleys” no longer exist as they have been replaced by new, safer sections of road.
The United States began upgrading major highways to modern freeways in the 1950s. The freeways were much safer than the old highways because the opposing lanes were separated by barriers or wide medians and grade-level crossings were eliminated by overpasses and underpasses. The significantly lower rate of fatalities on the freeways caused the busy older highways to become notorious as areas with comparatively higher rates. Some older, narrow roads have not been widened to accommodate increased traffic over the years. These roads sometimes become notorious. In many regions, the most dangerous sections of these old highways became known locally as “Slaughter Alley” (or by other similar names). Over subsequent decades many of these roads were bypassed or upgraded to freeway status.
Some of the worst current U. S. killer highways
- Blood Alley or Death Trap Highway: California State Route 138 (Pearblossom Highway) east of Palmdale and west of Interstate 15.
- Blood Alley: U.S. Highway 6 near Bolton, Connecticut, also known locally as “Suicide 6.” Efforts to improve the road near this town have continually failed due to unresolvable conflicts of interests between local, state, and federal officials; the state officially abandoned freeway plans in 2003 in lieu of safety improvements on the existing road.
- Kamikaze Curve: New York Route 17 in Binghamton, New York, east of the junction with Interstates 81 and 88. The sharp curve along the base of a mountain is the site of dozens of fatal crashes since the highways opening in the 1960s.
- Highway of Death: Connecticut Turnpike (I-95) between New Haven and the New York state line. The route is one of two main commuter routes between Connecticut and New York City, and part of the main truck route along the Eastern Seaboard. If you find yourself involved in a truck accident, you may want to check out something like a truck accident attorney as they can help you if you are injured. These two factors contribute to its high fatality rate. Long-term construction is underway to address congestion and the high accident rate on this stretch of highway.
- Highway of Death: US-24 between Fort Wayne, Indiana and Toledo, Ohio. This 2-lane route—the site of numerous fatal head-on collisions between cars and semi trucks—is being bypassed with a freeway in northeast Indiana, and continuing into Ohio as a 4-lane highway.
- Blood Highway: California State Route 12 between Lodi, California and Rio Vista, California. This is a 2-lane road that many big rig truckers use to go from the 160 to Interstate 5. There are many side roads with blind spots and you must use your lights at all times. This highway also allows passing in the opposite lane which leads to increased head on collisions and other accidents.
- Slaughter Alley: U.S. Route 101 south of San Clemente, California (near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station). Bypassed by Interstate 5.
- Massacre Mountain: Old U.S. Highway 25E between Middlesboro, Kentucky and Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. Now a hiking and nature trail, replaced by the Cumberland Gap Tunnel.
- Blood Alley: U.S. Route 101 near San Jose, California. Last section upgraded to freeway status in 1984.
- Blood Alley: Route 21 in Jefferson County, Missouri, also referred to as “Missouri’s Most Dangerous Highway”. The majority has been rerouted to a new freeway, with the southern part near Hillsboro, Missouri currently under construction.
- Suicide Strip: US Route 58 between Emporia, Virginia and Suffolk, Virginia, earning the nickname when the then two lane section was the scene of many multi-fatality accidents. Safety improved considerably with the completion of a parallel road to provide divided 4 lane capacity in the early 1990s.
- Death Hill: The steep descent of Interstate 75 in Kenton County, Kentucky toward the Ohio River and Cincinnati. This stretch of road, now known as Cut-in-the-Hill, was reconstructed from 1989 to 1994, and the number of fatal accidents dropped dramatically. However, it still has a much higher accident rate than similar Kentucky highways.
- Highway to Heaven: The stretch of U.S. 27 in Butler County, Ohio running from Old Colerain in Cincinnati to Oxford, Ohio. Before it was widened and speed limits were lowered, it had a very high fatality rate.
- Bloody 66, Slaughter Lane: Stretches of the famous former U.S. Route 66, including the stretches from Glenrio, Texas to Tucumcari, New Mexico and in the vicinity of Oatman, Arizona. These have been bypassed by Interstate 40, yet still remain open. Fatalities decreased significantly because a large volume of traffic, which had caused congestion on the largely two-lane highway, had been diverted to the 4-lane limited-access interstate highway.
- Death Valley: A stretch of Interstate 40, Interstate 85, U.S. Route 421, U.S. Route 29, U.S. Route 70, and U.S. Route 220 that runs through Greensboro that was well known for a high number of accidents and fatalities. Since the completion of the southeastern half of the Greensboro Urban Loop in 2005, traffic and accidents have decreased significantly.
- Suicide Alley: A stretch of U.S. Route 6 on Cape Cod in Massachusetts reduces to a two-lane freeway with plastic stanchions posted on a small asphalt median was known as “Suicide Alley” due to the high number of fatalities from head-on collisions before the median improvements were constructed. (When the two-lane freeway stretch was first built, it was marked with passing zones like any other two-lane highway. The small asphalt/stanchion median was built in stages beginning in 1989.
- Dalton Highway, Alaska: This isolated 414-mile highway was built as a supply road to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System in 1974. There are just three towns on the way, with a total population of 60 people. Besides the arctic weather to contend with, the giant trucks that ply the route kick up huge clouds of dust, reducing visibility to zero, and the road is littered with enormous pot holes.Colorado 550 from Ouray to Silverton: This two-lane highway, sometimes called the “Million Dollar Highway,” is mountainous and full of sharp s-curves. And if you’re traveling during the winter, beware of avalanches.U.S. 19, Florida According to MSNBC this may be the most deadly road in the U.S. 100 pedestrians were killed crossing the road during one five-year stretch.U.S. Highway 2, Montana is the biggest contributor to Montana having the highest highway fatality rate in the nation.
U.S. 129, North Carolina: AAA Carolinas called this road “the best chance of being killed” in 2008.
Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas: on this interstate more than 1,000 people have been in killed in past 15 years.
I-26, South Carolina: on this road a total of 325 people died in 286 wrecks during the last decade, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety.
Los Angeles, California 101 to I-405 Interchange is one of the most heavily traveled and congested freeways in the U.S. In fact, the joke is that it’s called the 405 because traffic moves at “four or five” miles per hour.
Atlanta, Georgia I-285 at I-85 Interchange: a combination of multi-leveled highways and small feeder roads causes a large congestion of traffic at almost all times of day on this interchange. Because of all the bridges and suspended roads, this highway gets incredibly icy and dangerous during winter.
Interstate 95 in Florida. In-state miles: 382.15. Fatal accidents: 662. Fatal accidents per mile: 1.73. Total fatalities: 765
Interstate 15 in California. In-state miles: 287.26. Fatal accidents: 437. Fatal accidents per mile: 1.52. Total fatalities: 506
The nation’s most dangerous roads
If you’re making for Mississippi, slow down and buckle up. Statistically, with almost 27 road deaths per 100,000 Mississippians, the state languishes at the bottom of the list in the U.S. when it comes to safe roads. Unlit rural roads, high speeds, and lack of seatbelt usage (since changed) are prime culprits. More than half of those who died on Mississippi’s roads in 2010 were not wearing a seatbelt and, according to a Reader’s Digest study, Mississippi was one of the deadliest states due to speeding. It is also one of 11 states where texting while driving is not against the law (though it is illegal if you are driving with a learning permit or temporary license). The state senate approved bans on texting as well as using handheld phones while driving in 2011, but the bills were rejected by the House Judiciary Committee in July 2012.
Carjacking capital of the world
South Africa has some of Africa’s most beautiful coastline, a stunning subtropical climate, and an abundance of wildlife. It also has one of the world’s highest rates of carjackings. According to police statistics, 10,627 carjackings occurred in the country of 50 million last year—half in tiny Gauteng Province, home to Johannesburg and Pretoria. But before you cancel your flight, keep in mind that most victims are not seriously injured and that there are things you can do to decrease your carjacking odds. The situation is so dire that residents can legally attach small flamethrowers to cars to repel carjackers (this is definitely not standard on rental cars). Less extreme precautions include watching for signs marking “carjacking blackspots or hotspots,” keeping doors locked while driving, and not stopping for apparent accidents, vehicles that have broken down, or even cars with blue lights—they’re not necessarily police. Weigh up whether to stop at red lights in high-risk areas, especially at night; risk a fine instead of a hijack. More than 8.3 million people visited South Africa last year, over 432,000 of them from the Americas. Well over a third of those visitors from the Americas were repeat visitors, proving South Africa’s appeal outweighs its potential risks.
The deadliest animal roads in North America
Every year, there are about 1 million collisions with deer on U.S. roads, more than 100,000 of them in Pennsylvania, where the odds of hitting a deer are one in 86. The deadliest month for deer collisions is November, when male deer have fighting and mating on their minds. So turn up your high beams and watch for posted deer crossing signs, particularly between 6 and 9 p.m. While deer hit the headlines in Pennsylvania as well as neighboring West Virginia, Alaska had a grim bumper winter for moose collisions. By February, over 600 winter moose collisions had been recorded. Back on the East Coast, New Hampshire is a bad state to be a moose, with around 250 moose-car encounters annually; a hefty figure considering the state’s moose population is only 6,000 strong.
Roads with the most chaos—and the most cows
Notorious for its chaotic traffic, India might well be the most terrifying place to drive. Gargantuan traffic jams, six cars crammed into the three lanes, and a complete disregard for traffic signs and markings: These are just a few of the travel hazards you’ll face on India’s city streets. The noise of car horns is deafening as streets seethe with cars, cows, mopeds, bikes, and pedestrians. Outside the cities, ancient, precariously held-together vehicles hurtle along poorly maintained roads at breakneck speed. Drivers often leave car lights off at night when driving poorly or unlit streets and sometimes shut off engines completely when going down hills. If you have to drive in India—it’s an experience, you’ll never forget.