I-10 in Arizona (Photo: Wing-Chi Poon | Wikipedia)
The United States may not have anything like Bolivia's "death road," but for highway deaths per capita, the World Health Organization ranks the U.S. as much more dangerous than most northern European countries at 11 highway deaths per 100,000 population per year—three times the death rate of the U.K. These are some of our deadliest stretches of pavement.
I-10 in Arizona
Although Interstate 10 runs the entire width of the U.S., the 150-mile stretch from Phoenix to the California border is particularly dangerous, with this section through lightly populated desert seeing up to 85 deaths in a single year, according to the website i10Accidents.com. The entire state death toll in Arizona is only about 700 for all roads in an average year.
I-26 in South Carolina
An unusually short section of I-26 was identified as one of the deadliest roads in South Carolina by the Charleston Post and Courier. Overall, the newspaper reported in 2010 that from 2000 to 2010, federal and state records show 325 people died in 286 wrecks on I-26 in South Carolina. But the paper analyzed crash data on a few short sections of I-26 and found it suffered double the death rate of busier sections of the highway near Charleston. Seven of the nine fatalities in 2009, for example, involved cars hitting trees and rolling over in ditches, according to the Post and Courier, which also reported this section of roadway has few guardrails, yet the slopes to side road ditches are steep.
Highway 550 in Colorado
The 25-mile stretch of Highway 550 in southwestern Colorado that connects the antique tourist towns of Ouray and Silverton reaches 11,000 feet above sea level as it passes through Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains. The scariest part of the road is that it lacks guardrails, which are absent to allow for removing snow and avalanche debris. There are no shoulders on much of this section, either, so weaving off the road means a plunge down the side of the mountain. This section of 550 is known unofficially as the "million dollar highway," though conflicting stories of the name's origin include the cost of building or paving the road, as well as the amount of gold and silver that were excavated when the road was built in 1926.
Highway 2 in Montana
According to the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety at the University of Minnesota, which calls Highway 2 one of the nation's most dangerous roads, Montana has the highest fatality rate in the U.S. That assertion is backed up by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's findings that rural roads are more dangerous than urban ones. Why? The reasons include long transportation times for ambulances to get crash victims to hospitals—an average of 80 minutes in the vast plains, where in cities the average is 15 minutes, according to Montana's department of transportation data. Plus, the sparse traffic means drivers drive faster, and U.S. Highway 2 crosses the northern and most remote part of the state.
U.S. 431, Alabama
It's about 98 miles from Phenix City to Dothan, Ala., on U.S. 431, which has been labeled as one of America's most dangerous roads by outlets such as Reader's Digest. Just last month, for example, four people were killed when a pickup truck carrying more than 10 people rolled over. Overall, there were 20 deaths along this stretch between 1999 to 2010, leaving the road dotted with white crosses placed by victims' families and friends. Prior to finishing a major four-lane conversion in 2010, officials cited traffic density and limited visibility on the mostly two-lane sections as the reasons U.S. 431 has been called one of the nation's most dangerous roads. In 2004, construction to widen a 16-mile stretch of the highway began. Crews also began to replace bridges. Today most of the highway is four lanes wide except for the sections that run through small towns.
Dalton Highway, Alaska
Opened for driving in 1974, this 414-mile dirt road from Fairbanks to the North Slope of Alaska allows trucks to supply oil and gas businesses. Officially named the James Dalton Highway, it is also called the "haul road." The highway twists and winds around steep mountains of the Brooks Range, where the lowest temperature ever recorded in the U.S.—minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit—happened in the winter of 1971. In 1994 the road was opened to tourists, which alarmed some of the professional truck drivers who had been driving the treacherous two-lane road for years. Twice a day a helicopter patrols the road looking for accidents or breakdowns, and services are few. There is just one fuel stop at Coldfoot, halfway to Deadhorse, Alaska, which sits at the north end of the highway. The state tourism bureau warns that local rental car companies rarely allow their cars to be driven on the road. Still, though the road sees about 10 crashes a year, mostly single-vehicle rollovers, the fatality rate is less than one per year.
California State Route 138
California drivers have borrowed the phrase "highway of death" or "death road" from Bolivia's famous North Yungas Road and applied it to Highway 138, which wiggles from Interstate 15 to the town of Palmdale. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2000 that during one five-year period prior to 2000, there were 56 deaths and 875 injuries on the road, which had been labeled "blood alley" and "California deathway" when it averaged more than 10 fatalities per year on the steep and twisty two-lane road. In 2006 improvements to the road began, but delays from inconvenienced local residents plagued the projects with numerous threats to highway workers and construction equipment vandalism. Since then, fatalities have been reduced due to construction creating wider lanes and better sight lines.
I-95 in Connecticut
The Connecticut Post reported in 2009 that more than 10 percent of all accidents that happened on Connecticut's 100-mile stretch of I-95 occurred in the 8-mile section around the city of Norwalk. This is where the odds of being in an accident increased significantly, with 735 crashes annually compared to less than 600 for similarly sized sections through other cities, such as New Haven, Stamford, Greenwich, and Milford. The newspaper quoted a state police spokesman saying the congestion of the city, plus curves and hills, are the culprits.
U.S. 24 Fort Wayne to Toledo
For more than 20 years, grassroots organizations near Toledo have been advocating widening and other improvements to U.S. highway 24, which runs from Toledo, Ohio, 77 miles west to Fort Wayne, Ind. Halfway across this stretch is Napoleon, where the improvements were finally finished in 2012. The 23-mile widened highway section replaced a treacherous two-lane road that had a high rate of fatal accidents, especially in commercial trucks. The Toledo Blade newspaper reported that the road was known for "gruesome head-on collisions" among tractor-trailer trucks that moved materials between factories in Ohio and Indiana. Near Defiance, Ohio, was a "dead man's curve," for example, and the entire stretch of U.S. 24 became known as "the killway." At one point Ohio officials suggested eliminating tolls from the nearby Ohio Turnpike as a way to get trucks to use that wider route more often. When the widened section of U.S. 24 was opened in 2012, one local resident wore a T-shirt that said, "Death No More on 24."
I-15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
More than 8 million people drive back and forth annually from southern Nevada to southern California, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The Nevada AAA says the 180-mile stretch has had more fatalities than anywhere else in the state, and half of those killed were not wearing seatbelts. But AAA and commercial truck drivers who drive the route say there are several other reasons 1-15 claims so many lives each year, including drinking and driving and distracted driving. The television news show Dateline on NBC counted a death toll of 173 people in a five-year span prior to 2005, although improvements such as adding lanes have been completed since then.
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- Dalton Highway