About 1.3 million people die in traffic accidents every year. The World Health Organization has declared 2011-2021, “A decade of action for road safety.”
But while many of those deaths could be prevented by better driving, there are some roads that test the skill, and courage, of any driver. Whether it’s hairpin bends, sheer mountain drops or roads through war zones, here are some of the world’s most dangerous roads.
10. The Stelvio Pass, Italy
Death rating: 1/10
Some roads look a lot more dangerous than they really are. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to admire the alpine scenery instead of the route ahead.
With more hairpins than Helena Bonham Carter, the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps looks like a child’s scribble over the hills. Don’t be fooled.
The road climbs almost two kilometers and, with just a low concrete barrier between you and the steep mountain drop, it’s best not to look down. A bit too much speed on one of the road’s 60 180-degree corners could spell disaster.
9. Los Caracoles Pass, Chile
Death rating: 2/10
These steep, dizzying bends slalom through the Andes between Uspallata in Argentina and Los Andes in Chile. The remote location, its elevation of 3,176 meters and the procession of articulated lorries make the drive even more frightening.
There’s no safety barrier either.
Nonetheless, even tourist coaches use the road, at least when it’s not cut off by snow in winter. An easier option is to go by air or take the Transandine Railway — if it’s ever brought back into service.
8. The coast roads, Croatia
Death rating: 5/10
In a country that experiences an average of 11,650 traffic accidents a year, it’s no wonder that Croatia also makes it onto the Association for Safe International Road Travel‘s list of some of the world’s most dangerous roads.
Congestion and speeding are a problem along the Adriatic coastal roads, which are infamous in the region for their blind corners, sharp bends that cling to the cliff face as well as a frequent lack of safety barriers.
7. The Widow-maker, United Kingdom
Death rating: 6/10
This scenic country road through England’s Peak District was named by the Road Safety Foundation in 2010 as the United Kingdom’s most dangerous road, with 34 fatal or serious accidents from 2006 to 2008.
Many of the casualties are motorcyclists, who come to enjoy the wide open space and bucolic scenes.
However, the road’s treacherous bends, edged by steep embankments and stone walls, make it far more dangerous than it looks, leading to its grim local nickname, the “widow-maker.”
6. Guoliang Tunnel in the Taihang mountains, China
Death rating: 6/10
The Guoliang Tunnel road in China’s Henan province is scary enough for today’s drivers, but for the Chinese villagers who hacked this 1.2-kilometer tunnel along the edge of the Taihang mountains in 1972, it proved deadly.
Some of them perished during construction, which was done mainly with hand tools. Four meters wide and five meters high, the tunnel also has some open edges over a rocky precipice so its nickname, “the road that does not tolerate mistakes,” is pretty apt.
5. The Zoji Pass, India
Death rating: 7/10
The Zoji La is a mountain road between Kashmir and Ladakh and it looks like little more than a dusty pathway through the western Himalayas.
But it’s a lifeline that keeps the people of Ladakh in touch with the rest of the world, although it’s often cut off by heavy snow in winter.
The nine-kilometer stretch of road meanders over the mountain at 3,528 meters, with no barrier on one side and just the hard rock face on the other. Definitely not for anyone suffering from vertigo or a fear of landslides.
4. Karakoram Highway, Pakistan
Death rating: 7.5/10
The Karakoram highway links China and Pakistan at the Khunjerab Pass, at an altitude of 4,693 meters. It’s prone to landslides and floods and to make matters worse, the road is unpaved in Pakistan.
But it is still a tourist attraction, passing through some spectacular gorges along the old Silk Road.
It has been named the “Friendship Highway” by the governments who built it, despite 810 Pakistani and 82 Chinese workers losing their lives during construction, mostly in landslides.
3. The Highway of Death, Iraq
Death rating: 8/10
Most Iraqi roads are dangerous at the moment, but Highway 80, from Kuwait City to Basra in Iraq, went down in history as the “Highway of Death” in the first Gulf War when a retreating column of Iraqi tanks and trucks was bombed by U.S. aircraft in February 1991, destroying 2,700 vehicles.
The death toll has never been accurately established and estimates vary from 300 to 10,000. The end of the war came just days after images of burnt-out vehicles and charred bodies were broadcast around the world.
2. The Road of Death, Bolivia
Death rating: 8.5/10
Once declared by the Inter-American Development Bank as the most dangerous road in the world, the route from La Paz to Coroico drops (3.5 kilometers over 65 kilometers) steeply enough to give even Charlie Sheen cause to pause and rethink his next move.
While it’s become a playground for adventure cyclists, the dangers are real. Local trucks and overcrowded buses still ply, and quite often fly off, the route, with 200-300 fatalities a year.
1. The road from Jalalabad to Kabul, Afghanistan
Death rating: 9.5/10
Many roads have been dubbed “most dangerous,” but the 65-kilometer stretch of highway from Jalalabad to Kabul has more claim than most, snaking through Taliban territory.
But it’s not the threat of insurgency that makes Highway 1 so dangerous — it’s a combination of the narrow, winding lanes that climb up to 600 meters through the Kabul gorge and the reckless Afghan drivers trying to overtake the heavily-burdened haulage trucks.
Fatal crashes are a daily occurrence.
Know of any other dangerous roads you think should be on the list? Let us know in the comment section below.