The American song “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf talks about the joys of the open road and the experience of the Great American Roadtrip – “Get your motor runnin’ Head out on the highway Lookin’ for adventure And whatever comes our way”. Well, that sounds nice but if you choose the wrong road, the thing that comes your way may be an 18-wheeler, skidding out of control and pushing you over the edge of a canyon. Obviously, some highways are straight and glorious, but equally some are twisty and perilous. Driving on those can be an extreme sport, as we find out in our Top 10 Most Dangerous Highways in America.
10. Interstate-12, LA
Despite being called an Interstate, I-12 is entirely contained within the state of Louisiana. Its 85 miles go from Baton Rouge to Slidell, and the eastern direction coming out of Baton Rouge is particularly notorious for accidents. The communications director for Driving Louisiana Forward described the road as one of the “deadliest” in Louisiana, thanks to the narrowing from 6 lanes to 4, causing bottlenecks and crashes, sadly resulting in a number of deaths.
Among the recent deaths have been Melvin Beecham, who died in a crash with an 18-wheeler and a van, and Terry Gerot, who ran into the back of a utility truck, which was itself protecting a broken-down car. Another victim of the road was 74-year-old Henry Conley, who drove off the road into a tree. All of these happened in the last three months – approach this road with caution!
9. Interstate-79, PA/WV
I-79, which runs from West Virginia to Pennsylvania, is another highway that has seen more than its share of accidents. Tragic incidents in West Virginia in March 2013 included a crash near Frametown, where 2 children died, and a 4AM crash in Harrison County that killed 2 teenagers. In both cases, the victims were not wearing seatbelts, prompting an appeal to young people to wear seatbelts. Although, its author being a wrongful death attorney would make the cynical doubt its sincerity.
The most dangerous part of the highway, however, is the intersection with I-70, where drivers are forced to make a tight U if they’re coming from the northbound I-79 onto the westbound I-70. The junction is a notorious accident blackspot, and one trucker describes the wall next to it as “just beat to pieces where people have banged into it”, while Washington County Commission Chairman Larry Magg calls it “horribly designed”. The intersection is currently being restructured and should be completed in October 2014 but until then, take the hairpin bend very, very slowly.
8. Interstate-285, GA
I-285 is one of the busiest roads in America, with 2 million vehicles a day using it. It circles the city of Atlanta, and at rush hour it moves at a crawling pace. That doesn’t stop it being deadly – in fact, the crowded conditions exacerbate the effects of accidents, like when a lorry dropped a ladder onto the road and caused a multi-vehicle pile-up (above). The incident happened not long before rush hour and blocked all four lanes going north and sadly, caused the death of 1 person and the injury of 2 more.
The interchange with I-85 is particularly hazardous with its 18 lanes and many levels of highway causing confusion and dangerous driving. It is locally known as Spaghetti Junction, although its official name is the Tom Moreland Interchange. The high-level bridges and suspended roadways are also particularly prone to ice during winter, adding an extra edge of danger to the confusion. It’s a remarkable piece of highway engineering, but not a safe one.
7. Interstate-10, LA
Another dangerous stretch of road in Louisiana is I-10, which stretches from California to Florida, crossing I-12 at Baton Rouge. A prominent feature of the road is the High Rise Bridge, over an industrial canal, which is tall enough that ships pass underneath it.
The height means a sharp gradient, though, which inevitably causes problems as cars struggle with the climb and break down. In case that wasn’t tricky enough, there’s an on-ramp to contend with too, which makes for an accident blackspot. One such accident occurred on March 28 and involved 9 vehicles. If your car isn’t good on hills, probably best to avoid.
6. Interstate-24, TN
This road is famous for the Monteagle Mountain stretch, where the road climbs steeply across the mountain. It was once notorious for crashes caused by runaway trucks, but gravel pits alongside the highway now act as truck ramps, for any that veer off the road. Monteagle Mountain was immortalized in song by Johnny Cash, who sang “Your life is in your hands when you start down that long, steep grade”. If the gradient wasn’t bad enough, there’s also a sharp curve and thick fog every morning. One trucker says “You can’t see anything in front of you…It’s incredibly nerve-wracking”
The other notable feature of I-24 is the sinkhole that appeared in the eastbound lanes in Grundy County in May 2010. The hole was 25-feet deep and only reopened after substantial repair works and a bill of $267,000. Remarkably, no-one was hurt in the incident.
5. The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway LA
Not to be confused with the Pontchartrain Expressway, which is part of I-10, this is a 24-mile-long bridge which crosses Lake Pontchartrain. A Guinness World Record holder for the longest continuous bridge over water, this is an extremely scenic drive but can also be a very dangerous one. Again, fog is the culprit, rolling in so thick that drivers can’t see the end of their own car let alone anyone else’s. Police convoys are sometimes used to guide cars across but a police spokesman describes driving in the fog as “a very dangerous and unnerving situation”. Not for the faint-hearted!
4. Colorado 550, CO
Also known as the Million Dollar Highway, this is another mountainous road full of treacherous twists and turns. Part of the road is cut directly into the mountain and threatens to throw you into a ravine at the hint of over-steer. Specifically, the Million Dollar Highway refers to the 12-mile stretch south of Ouray, through Uncompahgre Gorge. Here you’ll find no guardrails and drivers heading south towards Silverton have to take the outside lane, perilously close to the edge.
The ascent of Red Mountain Pass is particularly scary, with its steep gradient and hairpin curves. If you’re not driving and you don’t have your eyes tightly closed, the scenery is spectacular. Just watch out for the RVs coming towards you. And in winter, it might not even be possible to attempt the drive, as the road is often closed by snow. Extreme driving indeed!
3. U.S. Highway 2, MT
Montana is one of the most dangerous states to drive in – with the long distances between towns, cars pick up speed and so nearly all accidents are high-speed ones. The response time from emergency services is also huge compared to urban areas. Help can take anything from 80 minutes to several hours to arrive, and the nearest hospital could be hundreds of miles away. So, if you have an accident on the Montana stretch of Highway 2, you’re on your own. Additionally, a review of Montana’s road safety found that 70% of people in accidents weren’t wearing seatbelts.
Road safety measures seem to be working in Montana – deaths went down from 270 in 2002 to 189 in 2010. Although the death rate per mile in 2010 was an all-time low for Montana, it was still the death rate per mile of any state in the country, and 3 times that of Massachusetts. Highway 2 is particularly treacherous, as it maintains a 70mph speed limit through winding and mountainous roads. If you’re at all skeptical about how dangerous the road is, a glance at the clusters of white crosses (up to 17 at any one point) will convince you…
2. Interstate 95, FL
The I-92 is a 382-mile highway, which goes from Miami along the east coast of Florida to the border with Georgia. It has the distinction of being the deadliest highway in America, with a rate of 1.73 fatal accidents per mile when measured over a 5-year period. The road is extremely busy and crowded, even with 12 lanes of traffic at one point. There are a number of homes near the highway, which means that no more lanes can be added for now. Florida is also a state with some extreme weather, which can disorientate visitors and cause hazardous driving conditions.
There are so many accidents that this stretch of road even has its own attorney, ready to sue anyone who drives into you. If that doesn’t make you terrified of driving it, what will?
1. Dalton Highway, AK
As is so often the case, however dangerous things are in the contiguous states, there’s often a more extreme danger to be found in Alaska. The Dalton Highway is one of the most dangerous roads in the world. As you might expect, the 414-mile road is pretty isolated, so in the case of an accident help will take a very long time to arrive. And with the freezing weather, huge trucks and a minefield of potholes, accidents are very likely to happen.
The road was made famous via the reality TV show “Ice Road Truckers”, where it was introduced as “In the Dark Heart of Alaska, there’s a road where hell has frozen over”. That may be exaggerated for dramatic effect, but the Dalton Highway is certainly a danger, even to the experienced truckers. If you want to get somewhere in Alaska, probably best to fly…