Twenty-five years ago, a passenger-filled bus plunged off a precipitous cliff in the Bolivian Andes, sending more than 100 people crashing to their death on the canyon floor below.
Unlike many tragedies, there was no alcohol or speeding or sheer reckless driving to blame, but only a minor miscalculation of the sort that countless competent drivers make everyday.
Some roads are less forgiving of minor miscalculations than other roads, but the Old Yungas Road in the Bolivian Andes forgives nothing at all. While the accident remains one of the worst ever in Bolivia's history, it was hardly the last.
The annual death toll for those who dare drive the roughly 40-mile long Old Yungas is well over 100 people most years. Ironically, it's become a tourist destination for adventure-seeking foreigners eager to add "drove world's most dangerous road" to their list of accomplishments.
But it's far from alone. The world has more than a few byways worthy of the ignominious moniker, "World's Most Dangerous." According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., at least nine others rival the Old Yungas for the dubious distinction.
ASIRT surveyed data on car crashes, local driving customs, government support for road maintenance and several other factors compiled by the U.S. Department of State, the United Nations, the World Health Organization and other organizations to identify the most dangerous roads in the world. Because different organizations often collect different types of data related to safety, ASIRT used enough variables to allow for substitutions and slight modifications depending on the records available for specific locations.
Also on their list: The link between Egypt's scuba diving resorts along the Red Sea and the ancient southern city of Luxor. By any measure, the Luxor-Hurghada Road is a death trap. At night, drivers speed across the dusty desert with their headlights off, setting the stage for head-on collisions.
Ironically, the only thing more dangerous than driving on the Luxor-Hurghada Road at night with your headlights off is driving at night with them on. Bandits, brigands and even terrorists patrol the road in the darkness in search of easy prey.
The world's longest "motorable road," (according to Guinness World Records) is another killer--at least in Costa Rica. The Pan-American Highway runs nearly 30,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, in North America to the lower regions of South America.
Although only a small portion of the road runs through Costa Rica, that portion boasts many of the world's most treacherous miles. The road is one of a small number of routes into the country's spectacular rainforests. But keeping the rainforests pristine has a cost: By avoiding badly needed construction projects, segments of the Pan-American wash away during the rainy seasons and remain precarious, at best, during other times of the year, when it receives the most traffic.
In China, the danger is other people. The number of deaths caused by car accidents nearly doubled in the past 20 years, climbing from 3.9 to 7.6 per 100,000 of the population between 1985 and 2005. During this time, the volume of cars on the road increased ninefold, and the number of other vehicles, principally motorcycles, jumped by a factor of 54. Government statistics show nearly 82,000 road deaths--5.1 for every 10,000 motor vehicles--in China in 2006, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Ironically, the least populated regions had the highest overall death rates per 100 000 motor vehicles. The Sichuan-Tibet Highway, a high-elevation road between Chengdu and Tibet where landslides and rock avalanches are common, is undoubtedly part of the problem.
Not every deadly road is in a developing nation. Take the U.K.'s A44, from Oxford to Aberystwyth. The two-lane road has tallied enough accident fatalities and serious injuries in recent years to earn the ignominious honor of having government surveillance cameras installed to deter speeding and otherwise encourage cautious driving. And on a road where more than 25% of crashes on are head-on collisions, caution is well advised.
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