You’re driving along the coastline, enjoying the view. But keep your wits about you – this isn’t an ordinary road. The weather is unstable, visibility is poor, and cars are speeding around you at all times.
Not just cars, either – large trucks use this highway regularly, and the narrow lanes mean you’re constantly avoiding close calls. But you’re one of the lucky ones – it’s not rare to see the aftermath of devastating car crashes as you pass by. But don’t plan on stopping – not only is the traffic here hazardous, but the highway itself is a hub for crime.
Where is this road from hell – and why is it the deadliest road in the world? Poorly maintained, crowded, dangerous, and filled with hazardous conditions – you’ll want to avoid these roads on your next cross-country trip.
17. Col du Chaussy, France
It’s one of the most stunning views in the world – located over five thousand feet above sea level, this road in the southeast of France can be found in the Rhone-Alpes region. Unlike many of the mighty highways on this list, this is only around two miles long – but it packs a country’s worth of danger into that walkable stretch.
You start by taking a sharp hairpin turn – and take many more, a total of seventeen, as you slowly ascend a cliffside. It’s enough to make you dizzy – but be careful, because it’s a long way down. While a small concrete barrier protects people from falling the whole way down, there are many opportunities for danger.
That hasn’t stopped this road from being a frequent site for bicyclists, including the legendary Tour de France. If there’s any hard mode in that race, it comes in this maze-like stretch of French roadway. But given the terrain, this road is probably as safe as it can be.
It’s not the only road where height equals danger.
16. Karnali Highway, Nepal
The Himalayas are one of the tallest mountain ranges in the world, but even up there, people have to get around somehow. For those looking to drive through West Nepal, the only choice is the Karnali highway, a sprawling 155-mile stretch of road that killed around fifty people a year.
What makes this road so dangerous? There are a lot of culprits. For one thing, the desert conditions mean dust is blowing around constantly, obscuring your vision. And you should keep your wits about you – so you can see all the other dangers, including narrow roads, falling rocks, and poorly maintained roads that are susceptible to cracks and flood damage.
That’s when it’s not monsoon season – then you could be dealing with landslides looking to sweep your car clean off the road and into the chasms below. It’s so dangerous during the day that the police have banned driving it during the night entirely.
But for something completely different, let’s head south.
15. Commonwealth Avenue, Philippines
Any road is dangerous if it’s crowded enough – as anyone trying to make it to work during rush hour knows full well. But you’ve never seen a crowded road like Commonwealth Avenue. Far from a desolate wilderness road, it’s a massive highway in the middle of a city – and it’s far wider than anything most people are used to.
Spanning seven and a half miles, it’s eighteen lanes wide and constantly crowded with cars. Not only do drivers have to contend with other cars and large tour buses, but pedestrians and motorbikers use the road too – which means a fatal crash could only be seconds away.
The crowding, poor maintenance, and occasional flooding make this road a massive deathtrap, but closing it or restricting access isn’t an option. It would shut down access to a massive number of people, and so the city just keeps on making repairs when they can, and hoping that drivers keep their wits about them.
Sometimes great views come with great danger.
14. Taroko Gorge Road, Taiwan
How do you drive past a mountain? You can take the long way and go around it – or you can go straight through it. At least you can if you’re in Taiwan, where the Taroko Gorge Road was dug through miles and miles of stone.
The region this road goes through is known for its natural beauty, making it a hotspot for tourist, and that only makes it more dangerous – because a parade of cars and tour buses all want to get the same view you do. But messing with mother nature doesn’t come without consequences, and these mountaintop roads are never safe. Cars and buses try to navigate a single narrow road, dealing with sharp corners and frequent blind spots.
Some areas are so tight that buses might feel like they’re about to fall over. And all these dangers are the best case scenario – steer clear of this road during bad weather, when floods and rockslides can block the road entirely or knock even the best drivers off the steep cliffs.
Now let’s head down under, for a road with a long and troubled history.
13. Skippers Canyon Road, New Zealand
Skippers Canyon was one of the more remote locations in New Zealand, but in the 1800s, it was about to get a massive population boom – because there was gold in them thar hills. Getting to the gold mining bases was a long and dangerous trek, so a road was constructed – right through the large stone hills.
It took seven years to complete, and what emerged was equal parts road and deathtrap. Improvements have been made since and massively cut down the fatality rate, but the isolated road is still intimidating. Those daring enough to drive it will find narrow, unpaved roads and steep cliffs with no guardrails.
The road is so rough that insurance companies won’t pay out for damage resulting to rental cars from traveling on it. So who’s traveling on this road today? Mostly industrial loggers – and daring tourists who hire drivers and buses to take them through a piece of New Zealand history.
Natural conditions aren’t the only things that can make a roads dangerous.
12. Pan-American Highway
Stretching over nineteen thousand miles and two continents, the Pan-American Highway connects the pacific coast from Alaska all the way down to Chile, making it the world’s longest motorable road.
You can travel through countless climates, but it’s not always a smooth ride. Not only is there a gap in Panama that is only able to be crossed by a dangerous hike through a rainy jungle, but some dangers are of the more human kind. Some areas of the Pan-American Highway, particularly in South and Central America, are very isolated – and with isolation comes an opportunity for dangerous criminals.
There have been reports of both drug cartels and FARC rebels attacking cars and either robbing them or kidnapping passengers for ransom. In fact, the reason the Darien Gap isn’t covered by the road is because that’s among the areas where the FARC rebels are most dangerous. But really, when you have any road that’s nineteen thousand miles long, you’re bound to have some bad areas.
If you get dizzy, you should probably find another route than this next one.
11. Bayburt-of-Road D915, Turkey
Located along the boundary of the Black Sea in northeast Turkey, the road of D915 is precarious in the best of times – and there’s no safety net. You’re high above sea level and there are no guardrails along this rural road to prevent a massive drop.
It’s a popular tourist site because the views high above sea level are among the most stunning in Turkey – but there’s one area where you should keep your eyes on the road. The Derebasi Turns are one of the most challenging areas of road in the world, consisting of thirteen hairpin turns that send you rapidly up the cliff – climbing a dizzying one thousand feet in only three miles.
Not only do you stand the chance of missing a turn and careening off the road, but the rapid rise in elevation can cause drivers to get lightheaded – and on roads like this, even a second of distraction can be potentially fatal for those who brave this road.
But if turns make you uneasy, that’s nothing compared to this next road.
10. 99-Bend Road to Heaven, China
It’s all in the name, if you’re wondering how many turns you should prepare for while driving down this massive road built into the middle of the Tianmen Mountain National Park. Built among a stunning mountain range, the entire road is almost four thousand feet in the sky.
It’s just under seven miles in length and could be driven in ten minutes under normal circumstances – but these are not normal circumstances. The road is precarious, filled with almost a hundred sharp turns, and not a guardrail in site to protect you from taking a one-way trip down the mountain.
Not only that, but the level of the road is not always consistent, and it’s pretty common to come into a sharp stomach-churning drop. It’s almost like a roller coaster in your own car – except with a much higher risk of death. While the road is tricky at the best of times, this is also a region known for earthquakes – so be prepared for some extra shaking.
But elevation isn’t the only kind of extreme condition that makes driving a challenge.
9. Canning Stock Route, Australia
Welcome to the Outback, one of the most unforgiving regions in the world. They’ve got desert, desert, and more desert, and during the summer temperatures can get to dangerous levels. But sometimes you’ve got to cross the continent by car, and for those unlucky travelers, the Canning Stock Route awaits.
Considered one of the most remote roads in the world, this stretch of dirt in Western Australia is over eleven hundred miles long and takes three weeks to travel. While in the best of times, it’s tricky to travel due to the remote location and rough unpaved sections, it becomes a whole different story during the hot months.
The beating sun is so extreme that it can damage cars, and so daring drivers are encouraged to bring supplies – including anything they might need to fix their car in the event of a breakdown, because the odds are that any help is hundreds of miles away.
And on the opposite end of the climate spectrum, things don’t get much better.
8. Dalton Highway, Alaska
It wasn’t until 1974 that roads started to be built in this remote part of Alaska, but the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System meant more traffic into the frozen wilds. Spanning 413 miles, it gives those who drive down it a stunning view of snow. And more snow. And hey, I think that’s snow coming up.
Those travelers who brave it better be used to solitude, because they’ll only encounter three small towns along the entire route – one which has the cheery name of Deadhorse. While the road’s isolation makes it dangerous in itself, it has a lot of other risk factors.
Many sections of the road are damaged, and during cold months it’s common to see it covered in layers of snow and ice. Given that it’s mostly trucks that take the route, they can spin out of control easily. For those who do crash or encounter technical issues, they’re along the longest stretch of North American road without roadside assistance. So for those traveling to the north, travel the Dalton Highway at your own risk.
But at least they’re not driving in a war zone.
7. Kabul-Jalalabad Road, Afghanistan
If you’re in Afghanistan right now, getting out isn’t going to be too easy. It’s going to be even harder if you travel the Kabul-Jalalabad Road, connecting some of the troubled country’s biggest cities.
The road has the same problems as many long-distance roads in rural areas – it’s a narrow two-lane road with little room for cars to pass, drivers speeding past with seemingly no regard for their lives or anyone else’s, and steep inclines that can be challenging for older cars. But that’s not the reason that the local government has stopped even trying to keep track of how many people are killed on it.
The road is a major hub for criminal and terrorist activity, with militants frequently attacking cars and kidnapping drivers. So why would anyone drive along this road located in what’s known as the “Valley of Death”? Despite its troubles, it’s still a critical trade route and many locals rely on it to earn a living.
For something completely different, this next road is stunning – if you have a strong stomach.
6. Atlantic Road, Norway
The coastal region of Norway is home to countless small islands, many of which have small populations that need a reliable road to the mainland. That’s where the Atlantic Road comes in – maybe the twistiest road in the world. You’d be forgiven for thinking it looks more like a roller coaster than a highway, complete with sharp curves and twists that put your car on an angle.
While it’s a modern road complete with guardrails, you’re still going to feel your stomach dropping out as you take some of those turns. While it’s a safe but terrifying ride in the best of times, it’s not always the best of times. You’re riding in a wild coastal region, and storms come in frequently.
Then you’re dealing with poor visibility and massive waves that can splash right over the barriers keeping you safe. But hey, that’s just life in Scandinavia, and you’re pretty sure that’s not a Viking ship bearing down on you through the mist.
And the higher you go, the more dangerous things get.
5. Zojila Pass, India
At only five and a half miles long, this might seem like a fairly minor stretch of road – but for those who traverse this Himalayan highway, they find that what seems like a ten-minute drive can feel like hours of terror. It’s one of the highest roads in the world at a breathtaking 11,500 feet above sea level.
The rocky path is called a road, but it’s really more of a sanded-down mountain’s edge with no guardrails, no paving, and nothing to keep you from plunging down into the abyss below. While many of these dangerous roads can be traversed by a standard car, authorities recommend this one only be traveled by off-road vehicles – and even they are facing a lot of dangers.
During the summer months, the road should be stable – but during the winter, ice and snow can make it slippery and high winds and rain can impair visibility. And on a road like this, those traveling between Ladakh and Kashmir need every bit of visibility they can get.
This next road takes you through maybe the most remote location in the world.
4. Kolyma Highway and Lena Highway, Russia
Siberia. It’s often a region associated with being shipped away to a gulag for punishment, but the vast often-frozen land that makes Russia the biggest country in the world has many unique cultures within – but getting from place to place there is not easy.
The massive region is served by a pair of highways that spans almost two thousand miles, and the entire journey is defined by poor conditions and low visibility. Much of the region is unpaved, which means it’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the mud, causing brutal traffic jams. These can last so long that desperate drivers will even start to rob each other.
But the only way to connect the two and complete the journey is to use the Lena River Ice Road – which is only available in winter, because it’s not actually a road, it’s a sheet of ice over the river. While most cars make it across safely, dozens each year fall through the ice – making it one of the most dangerous journeys any driver can take.
To get to the world’s highest capital city, you’ve got to brave some heights.
3. North Yungas Highway, Bolivia
Not only do those traveling this lengthy road amid the Bolivian mountains have a long way below them, but they also have a long way above. The dizzying heights of the mountains are just one reason this is one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
A narrow road that dates back decades and was eventually replaced with a shiny new highway, the North Yungas Road today stands as a testament to just how far thrill-seekers will go. The road that was deemed to be too dangerous is now catnip to adventurous mountain bikers who risk a massive drop of twelve thousand feet every time they zoom around a corner.
It doesn’t take much to see why this road is genuinely deadly – along the long winding route, people will see makeshift memorials placed to those who have taken the short way down. Authorities estimate that a tragic number of between two and three hundred people meet their end at North Yungas every year.
But it falls short compared to the tallest road in the world.
2. Karakoram Highway, China/Pakistan
Designed to connect the two Asian nations and featuring stunning views of the Himalayas, this massive paved road was deadly from the start – with eighty-two workers dying during construction. The culprit? Rocks falling from the mountains above – and they haven’t really solved that problem, which means drivers take it at their own risk.
Even beyond the constant fear of death from above, this road is precarious at best. Much of the road – which is located over fifteen thousand feet above sea level – has no barriers, and at only thirty-two feet wide for two lanes, you’ll be dealing with some close calls when passing other drivers.
The extreme height adds another element of danger – altitude sickness, which frequently afflicts unprepared tourists taken aback by Himalayan air conditions. But for those who brave this road and keep their wits about them, they’ll be rewarded with stunning views of K2, one of the world’s tallest mountains. Just keep your eyes on the road.
Surely one of these roads is the most dangerous roads in the world? Not quite.
1. BR-116 – The Highway of Death, Brazil
So what makes BR-116, a massive highway stretching almost 2,800 miles in from Fortaleza to the Uruguay border, the most deadly road in the world? It doesn’t look like a deathtrap compared to some of the other roads around the world.
It’s completely paved – although many of the areas are falling into disrepair. While it is at a high elevation and bad weather conditions can lead to poor visibility, it typically has guardrails keeping you from falling of the steep cliffs. But it’s not some rural highway traveling a remote mountaintop or frozen wasteland – it’s one of the most important highways in the country, and definitely the longest.
It not only services the large football city of Fortaleza, but it passes through more than fifteen of Brazil’s major cities, including massive population hubs Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. A huge percentage of Brazil’s annual traffic goes through this highway.
Therein lies the problem.
Under normal circumstances, BR-116 would be a standard road where you had to keep your wits about you. If it was a remote road with these conditions, it likely wouldn’t reach anywhere near the death rate of some of the more precarious roads.
But none of those have to deal with being a thoroughfare for fifteen cities with at least 200,000 residents. So the biggest challenge for BR-116 – and the reason it earns the nickname “The Highway of Death” – is that with so many people passing through, there are many more opportunities for things to go horribly wrong.
The narrow single lanes that dominate the route mean that cars are often sharing the road in close quarters with not just other cars, but with heavy trucks carrying cargo. These trucks, mostly carrying massive grain harvests to the cities, wear down the road much more quickly, which can mean rough roads and more chances for cars to lose control.
That is before we take the weather into account.
BR-116 combines two elements that make for unstable roads – heights and coastlines. When you’re high up, winds are stronger and visibility can gets worse. Additionally, the high elevation can cause people to have trouble breathing and focusing, although that’s not as extreme here as it is in some of the Himalayan roads.
Then the coast comes in, bringing with it strong storms from the ocean which can potentially cause rockslides avalanches from the mountains. And with the road being as tight quarters as it is, there’s a good chance that one car going awry could cause a multi-car pileup that could sweep multiple hapless drivers clear off the road.
The deadliest part of The Highway of Death may just be the people.
Brazil has struggled for a long time to get its crime and gang problem under control, and it’s had some success in cities, where there’s a bigger police presence. But that hasn’t made the criminals pack up and become law abiding citizens – it’s made them switch strategies and go hunting for their target in more remote areas.
The route is essential to Brazil’s economy, and a majority of its traffic is trucks. That means they’re likely to be carrying money or valuable commodities that can be robbed. But they’re not the only targets – lower-level bandits will commonly attack motorists and steal their cars, often robbing them and assaulting them in the process.
The road is also a massive hub for criminal activity like drug and alcohol sales, meaning there’s a decent chance that the driver weaving in and out of traffic a few cars in front of you isn’t just distracted by the view.
Then there’s the wild.
Brazil is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, but drivers hope to not encounter them up close and personal. But when you’re this close to nature, driving always comes with another risk – car on animal collisions.
In the best-case scenario, this results in a dead animal and a damaged car – complete with delays for everyone behind that car. But with larger animals or drivers who get spooked, an animal collision can result in a multi-car pileup.
On another highway, B-262, it’s estimated that 3,000 animals lose their lives every year – and animal rights activists and biologists are advocating for protecting them. But many drivers are probably more concerned that a deer won’t wind up halfway through their windshield.
It all adds up to a pretty grim picture.
Brazil’s population is booming, and that means more people on the road. As the highway gets more crowded and the conditions get poorer, the heavy truck traffic continues to break down the road. It becomes more expensive to get goods through the massive highway, which raises prices, prices more people out of the market, and drives them to crime.
That makes the road even more dangerous, leading to the shocking statistic that as many as forty thousand people die on Brazil’s roads every single year – a large percentage of them on the Highway of Death, which has firmly become the deadliest road on the planet.
Is there hope?
Brazil knows this is a crisis, and the increasing awareness that their most important highway is a deathtrap is making it harder to keep the massive country supplied with goods. It also puts a dent in tourism, as the reputation of the highway for criminal activity makes people stick to the standard tourist sites rather than exploring the further reaches of the country.
While many of the problems are systemic and will take a long time to fix, the government is putting some reforms into place to try to turn the highway into a safer place. For one thing, they’re putting money into raising awareness of the risks of alcohol – which means one more danger off the road, if it works.
More importantly, they’ve instituted mandatory rest periods for truck drivers, decreasing the odds of hard-working truckers falling asleep at the wheel and taking their cargo – and maybe several drivers – with them as they plunge off a cliff.
But for now, keep your wits about you when you traverse the highway of death. It’s enough to make your morning commute seem almost relaxing. And hey, you’ve got a Dunkin’ on the way.