In Robert Frost’s classic poem “The Road Not Taken,” the poet tells us he took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. While the less traveled road is often more interesting, scenic or adventurous, it can also be more perilous. From white-knuckle switchbacks and stomach-churning drop-offs to landslides and landmines, there are all sorts of obstacles that can make a road dangerous. Modern technology and road construction attempt to minimize the hazards, but there are places around the world where you might want to think twice before taking the family for a Sunday drive. At the same time, there are roads that are heavily traveled simply because they are dangerous, the more thrill-seeking amongst us seeing a narrow, cliff-hugging descent as an adventure and not a suicide mission. Here are 10 of the world’s most dangerous roads.
10. Eyre Highway, Australia
There are no sheer cliff-sides to contend with, nor are there hairpin turns along this 684-mile stretch of Australian highway. In other words, it’s rather plain and boring, a sort of long and lonely road in the middle of nowhere -that is, until you take into consideration how many wild animals exists in southern Australia. The wildlife in the region, which includes kangaroos, emus, and camels, is known to do serious damage to cars. Dawn and dusk are the most dangerous times to drive on the Eyre Highway, as animals are frequently trying to cross the road. Nevertheless, even if you don’t have to navigate around an oncoming kangaroo, the highway’s loneliness and remoteness is known to cause driver fatigue, which in turn leads to a higher chance of accidents and fatalities.
9. Transfagarasan Road, Romania
Transfagarasan Road is legendary in auto enthusiast circles. With dramatic descents and 90km of hairpin turns, the BBC Top Gear crew named Transfagarasan the “Best Road in the World.” Originally built during the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu in the 1970s as a military route, Transfagarasan is Romania’s second-highest road and connects the two tallest mountains in the Southern Carpathians. The paved road strategically links the historic regions of Walachia and Transylvania, and the twists and turns offer some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Transfagarasan has more tunnels and viaducts than any other road in Romania.
8. The Stelvio Pass, Italy
At 9,045 feet, the Stelvio Pass is the highest paved road in the Eastern Alps. It was built by the Austrian Empire between 1820-1825 and connects Valtellina with the upper Aidige Valley. The road features 60 hairpin turns -40 of which are on the northern pass -and the zigzag route is said to look like child’s scribble over the hills. Protected only by a low concrete barrier, the mountain drop can give even the most skilled driver a sense of vertigo. The Stelvio Pass is open from June to September, and numerous tourists flock to the Eastern Alps to experience the road’s famous wall of switchbacks.
7. The A537, United Kingdom
Nicknamed the “widow maker,” the A537 (known locally as The Cat and Fiddle Road) is regarded as the most dangerous road in the United Kingdom. According to the UK’s Road Safety Foundation, there were 34 fatalities on the seven-mile stretch of road between 2006 and 2008, and 44 serious or fatal accidents between 2007 and 2011. Located in England’s Peak District, the road is popular with motorcyclists looking to enjoy the open space of the English countryside, and this often leads to a “racetrack mentality” along the route. The tight bends, steep drops, and stone walls that line the A537 are treacherous if one is going too fast, making the bucolic highway more dangerous than it initially appears. Motorcycle crash barriers have been erected on some of the worst affected parts of the road.
6. Kolyma Highway, Siberia
Locals call the Kolyma Highway “The Route” because it’s the only main road in the vast, frozen section of eastern Siberia. However, it’s also commonly referred to as “the road of bones” as it was built by thousands of political prisoners who were exiled to the region under the Stalin regime. It is rumored that prisoners who were shot for not working hard enough were buried under the road’s foundation. In 2008, after decades of disrepair, the Kolyma Highway was designated a federal road. Actor Ewan McGregor took a motorcycle journey on the Kolyma Highway for the TV show Long Way Around, and since then it has attracted all sorts of rugged adventurers. Known as “The World’s Coldest Road,” it is not uncommon to see snow falling in July and August.
5. Rohtang Pass, India
According to BBC Travel, each season, road crews use a GPS to find the Rohtang Pass and dig it out again. The 4,000-meter high road in the Eastern Himalayas connects the Kulu, Lahual, and Spiti valleys. The Rohtang Pass is notorious for mudslides, unpredictable snowstorms, and avalanches. In fact, Rohtang means “pile of corpses,” and the name stems from the deadly mudslides that occur on a regular basis. While the road remains open from May to November, in 2010 a freak snowstorm left 300 tourists stranded. A tunnel is currently being constructed beneath the Rohtang pass to provide a safer passage.
4. Karakoram Highway, Pakistan
The Pakistani government named it the “Friendship Highway, but there’s nothing friendly for drivers or passengers about the Karakoram. The Karakoram Highway is the highest paved road in the world (4,800 meters). The 800-mile stretch connects Pakistan with China through the Khunjerab Pass and across some of the tallest mountains in the world, including Nanga Parbat (9th highest), which is also known as “Killer Mountain.” Karakoram Highway is subject to avalanches, landslides, and floods, and on the Pakistan side there are actually signs like: Relax. Slide Area Ends. A 4X4 is the preferred method of transportation on the Karakoram.
3. Trollstigen, Norway
Trollstigen means “Troll’s Footpath” or “Trolls Ladder” in English, and it’s an accurate description of the dangerous mountain road that connects Andalsnes in Rauma to Valldal in Norrdal. During winter and spring, Trollstigen is closed because of heavy snow, but in the summer it’s a popular tourist attraction. Trollstigen took eight years to build and opened in 1936 as part of Norwegian National Road 63. Although the road has been widened in recent years, it’s still narrow. Trollstigen features a 9% incline and 11 hairpin turns. The government prohibits vehicles that are over 39 feet long from driving on the road. At the summit there’s a parking area; a ten-minute walk brings visitors to a viewing balcony that overlooks the bends in the road as well as Stigfossen Waterfall.
2. Yungas Road, Bolivia
According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, there is between 100 and 200 fatalities a year on Yungas Road. Fittingly, locals call this twisty, 40 mile stretch from the capital of La Paz to the town of Coroico in the Yungas jungle “Death Road,” and the number of memorials and crosses scattered along the artery make it seem more like a cemetery than a thoroughfare. Yungas Road is narrow –a single lane no more than 10 feet wide -and it drops over 12,000 feet in elevation. It’s subject to intense fog and frequent landslides, and if that wasn’t enough there are no guardrails protecting drivers from cliffs that plunge straight down. In 2006, a safer route between La Paz and Coroico was completed, but this hasn’t stopped extreme bike tours from offering adventure seekers the chance to tease death.
1. Highway 1, Afghanistan
Formally called the “Ring Road,” Highway 1 or A01 is a 2,200-kilometer road network connecting Mazar, Kabul and Kandahar, among other cities, but the extension that links Kabul to Jalalabad is the most dangerous. The narrow, winding road climbs 600-meters through the Kabul gorge; however, the brutal landscape and poor infrastructure is only part of the problem. The road snakes deep through Taliban territory, and the threat of insurgency is what makes Highway 1 so dangerous. Police checkpoints are scattered along the road, and patrols are sent out daily to secure portions of the highway when NATO convoys pass. Roadside bombs, ambushes, mortars, small arms fire, and extreme weather make Highway 1 the most dangerous road in the world.