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The World’s Most Dangerous Roads

Hostile climates, sheer drops and hairpin bends are some of the features that define the world’s most dangerous roads. This article looks at a selection of these infamous routes, from their histories to recent developments and what the brave (or foolish) drivers can expect on their journey.

Dalton Highway

Named after James W. Dalton, Alaskan engineer and explorer, this formidable gravel road runs for 414 miles along the oil pipeline, climbing inclines of up to 12% in some places.

In its long, lonely journey the road passes just three towns, with a combined population of around 60 people. Despite its remoteness, it is crossed by around 200 vehicles each day, more during the winter.

Drivers must keep their headlights on at all times and watch out for crater-like potholes.  This journey should not be attempted without a full tank of petrol, as there are only a handful of places to refuel along the road.

As if this wasn’t enough, the coldest temperature in the United States was recorded here at Prospect Creek: a staggering −79.8° Fahrenheit (−62.1° Celsius).

Trans-Sahara Highway

At the other end of the temperature spectrum, the Trans-Sahara Highway is a desert pass spanning 4,500 km (2,800 miles) from Algiers in Algeria, through the country of Niger, to Lagos in Nigeria.

The Highway was built in the 1970s as a project to improve the trade route through the Sahara Desert. Though most of it is paved, stretches of the road are poorly-maintained and require regular repair-work, particularly in the area around the Hoggar Mountains, which is liable to flooding.

Water and fuel stations are few and far between, so drivers must ensure they have their own provisions. Sandstorms and 50° Celsius heat are just some of the challenges they can face on the journey.

The North Yungas Road, Bolivia

El Camino de la Muerte, or ‘the Death Road’, is so named for a reason. The Bolivian road stretches over 60km from the country’s capital, La Paz, to the depths of the Amazon rainforest, and is punctuated with crosses marking the places where drivers have fallen to their deaths.

The two-way road is only 3 metres wide in some places, with no railings to protect drivers from the vertical 600 metre drop. Vehicles travelling uphill have right of way, and their downhill neighbour must move to the vertiginous outer edge to let them pass.

To make matters worse, the dusty surface is easily disturbed by traffic, reducing visibility to virtually nil. After heavy rain, the path is churned into mud, liable to crumble away beneath the wheels of passing vehicles.

The road was built by Paraguayan prisoners in the 1930s during the Chaco War. It is estimated that between two- and three-hundred people lose their lives there each year. One of the largest-scale tragedies occurred in 1983 when a bus veered off the cliff, killing over 100 passengers.

Unsurprisingly, in 1995 the road was considered the most dangerous in the world by the Inter-American Development Bank. However, as of 2006, a modernisation project, which included widening the track into two lanes, has made the road considerably safer.

Despite its high mortality rate, the North Yungas Road attracts droves of adventure tourists each year, particularly cyclists keen to freewheel the long downhill stretches.

The road was featured in an episode of the BBC’s motoring programme, Top Gear, where presenter Jeremy Clarkson attempted the dangerous journey.

Trollstigen, Norway

Norway’s famous ‘Troll’s Footpath’ is a spectacular road that zigzags from Åndalsnes in Rauma to Valldal in Norddal on a steep 9% incline.

Travellers arriving at the plateau, 700 metres high, are rewarded with panoramic views over the protected mountainous landscape and of the Stigfossen waterfall.

Recent additions include a museum and viewing platforms, and efforts have been made to widen some of the 19 hairpin bends. However, vehicles over 12.4 metres long are prohibited from Trollstigen for their own safety.

A national tourist route, in peak season, the road is traversed by 2,500 vehicles each day. Travellers approaching the mountain pass are cautioned with ‘trolls in the way’ road signs.

For many, making these difficult journeys is a daily necessity and, reassuringly, it seems that governments are working to improve the most notorious stretches of road, as is the case in Yungas and Trollstingen. However, for some tourists, the appeal of these roads will always lie precisely in the danger.

 

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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