10 Most Dangerous Roads in the U.S.
Ever get the feeling the road you're driving through isn't safe? Maybe it's poorly lit or unpredictably twisty and hilly. Perhaps the roads are poorly paved or the bridge you have to cross looks creaky. Sometimes a massive amount of unwieldy traffic makes you feel like you've entered a NASCAR race or a demolition derby.
To help you steer clear of these risky situations, and to prepare you when you can't avoid them, SmartFinancial has done a study of the 10 most dangerous roads in the U.S.
Driving in the U.S. has gotten more dangerous in recent years, so let us also highlight some risk factors and tips on how to protect yourself, your family and your car even on the roughest roads.
Death Roads: The Top 10 Most Dangerous Roads in the U.S.
To determine the most dangerous roads and highways in the U.S., SmartFinancial analyzed the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to see where the most fatal accidents occurred.
Not surprisingly, each of the top 10 is an interstate highway. The combination of high speeds and long drives often leads to trouble.
The following roads were found to be the site of the most fatal accidents:
U.S. Interstate 10
There are over a million roads in the U.S., but this highway alone accounted for nearly 1 out of every 100 traffic deaths in 2019, the most recent year for which detailed NHTSA accident figures are available.
With 43% more fatalities in 2019 than the next highest death toll for any other road, sadly I-40 is by far the most deadly road in the United States.
In a single year, 335 fatalities occurred on this highway that travels through eight different states on its way from Jacksonville, FL on the east coast to Los Angeles, CA on the west coast. Among those eight states, the greatest number of this highway's fatalities occurred in Texas, which isn't surprising since it contains the longest stretch of I-10.
U.S. Interstate 40
Like I-10, I-40 is a major east-west artery spanning eight states. It crosses the country further north than I-10, spanning from Wilmington, NC to Barstow, CA. Between Barstow to Oklahoma City, I-10 roughly follows the course of the famous Route 66.
Besides being a major cross-country route, another thing I-40 has in common with I-10 is a large number of fatalities. In 2019, there were 233 traffic deaths on I-40, making it the second deadliest highway in the U.S.
U.S. Interstate 95
In early January 2022, I-95 made national news when hundreds of drivers were stranded overnight on the highway by a snowstorm in Virginia.
This was not I-95's first taste of trouble, as the highway's 230 traffic fatalities in 2019 ranked it just behind I-40. That made it the third deadliest road in the United States.
I-95 is a north-south route, stretching from the Canadian border in Maine all the way down to Miami, FL. Crossing through such a wide range of climates no doubt contributes to the hazards a driver may experience on I-95. Another factor is that the highway serves several major metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.
U.S. Interstate 75
Passing from the northern tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan all the way down to the Miami area, I-75 helps link Mid-Western snowbirds with South Florida.
Unfortunately, the length of that journey and the range of weather conditions involved can spell trouble. I-75 was the fourth most deadly road in the US in 2019, with 200 traffic fatalities.
U.S. Interstate 80
Passing through the infamous Donner Pass on this highway is enough to give a traveler an eerie feeling. The feeling of foreboding is reinforced by I-80's ranking as the fifth deadliest highway in the nation.
Running from San Francisco to New York City, I-80 crosses over mountains, through long, sparsely-populated stretches, across states that are prone to major snowfalls and/or tornados, and by several metro areas. This combination of hazards contributed to I-80s 188 traffic fatalities in 2019.
U.S. Interstate 5
As I-5 takes travelers from the Canadian border in Washington State down to the Mexican border in California, it passes through some major traffic areas and steep mountain terrain.
Given those challenges, it's no surprise to find I-5 on this list, ranking as the sixth most dangerous road in the country with 162 deaths in 2019.
U.S. Interstate 20
Passing from West Texas to Florence, SC, I-20 includes one stretch where its speed limit is 80 miles per hour.
Unfortunately, speed sometimes kills. I-20 places seventh on this list of the most dangerous highways with 157 traffic fatalities in 2019.
U.S. Interstate 35
Challenges drivers face as they travel I-35 from Laredo, TX to Duluth, MN can include freezing precipitation, extreme heat and tornadoes.
That combination of dangers helps place I-35 eighth on this list of deadliest roads in the US with 141 traffic fatalities.
U.S. Interstate 70
I-70 is an east-west highway running from Baltimore, MD to Utah.
If you make that journey, be sure to drive carefully because I-70 has seen its share of misfortune. In 2019 it ranked ninth nationally with 137 traffic fatalities.
U.S. Interstate 15
From San Diego, CA to the Canadian border with Montana, I-15 traces a long, mountainous route from sultry warmth to extreme cold.
Its 135 traffic fatalities are a reminder of the hazards that can be involved in such a journey.
Has It Become More Dangerous To Drive in the U.S.?
The 10 roads listed above are the most extreme examples of the dangers facing drivers and their passengers, but of course, trouble can strike on any road. In fact, driving in the U.S. is getting more dangerous.
Statistics from the NHTSA show that in the decade from 2011 through 2020, traffic fatalities rose steadily. As the graphs below show, fatalities increased in terms of both total deaths and deaths per-miles driven. Note that total fatalities reached a high point in 2020 - despite the pandemic and despite people driving less.
What Types of Driving Behaviors Increase Motor Vehicle Risk?
You can't do much about the national trend towards more dangerous driving, but you can practice habits that make your driving safer.
This starts with being aware of some of the risk factors that make driving more dangerous, so you can avoid putting yourself in those situations.
Statistics show that young males are especially prone to be in accidents caused by excessive speed. Males across all age groups are more likely than females to be involved in a speeding-related fatal crash.
Speeding not only endangers the reckless drivers themselves, but all those around them as well. In the least harmful cases, speeding can still be very expensive.
Drunk Driving, Driving Under the Influence
About one in every four traffic fatalities could have been avoided if someone had avoided drunk driving or driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Both DWIs and DUIs are serious offenses that can heavily impact your insurance. You may even get your license revoked.
According to the NHTSA, it's illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher in every state except Utah, where the limit is 0.05. Even at lower blood alcohol levels, driving ability can be significantly compromised.
Weekend Reckless Driving
It's natural to blow off a little steam at the end of the work week, but SmartFinancial's analysis shows that the three worst days of the week for traffic fatalities are all associated with the weekend. Saturday had the highest percentage of traffic fatalities, followed by Friday and then Sunday. On the other end of the spectrum, Wednesday was the safest day of the week for being on the road, as measured by percentage of traffic fatalities. The full day-by-day breakdown is below.
These figures are more than just trivia. They are a reminder that the high spirits and socializing that come with the weekend can also lead to a let-down in driving care.
Fall Rush: Seasonality
Awareness of accident trends can help you consider changing your driving habits around the most dangerous times and use a little extra caution. Maybe it's the start of the school year, drivers distracted by fall foliage, or roads slick from wet leaves. Whatever the reason, September is the most dangerous month on America's roads.
You might think that the combination of winter weather and holiday gatherings would make the late fall and winter months the most dangerous time to drive. However, SmartFinancial's analysis of traffic fatality data found that the months from November through April each ranked in the bottom half of all months in terms of the frequency of accident deaths.
The chart below shows all twelve months ranked from highest to lowest in terms of average traffic fatalities.
Note: The total for each month was divided by the number of days to arrive at each month's average daily motor vehicle deaths.
Lax Driving Habits in Fair Weather
It's easy to understand how accidents occur in winter weather, driving rain or heavy fog. But the fact is that four out of five fatal traffic accidents happen when the weather isn't that bad.
About two-thirds of all fatal accidents (67.4%) happen under clear skies. Another 14.9% occur when it's cloudy but dry. Combined, those fair conditions were in place for 82.3% of deaths on America's roads.
In contrast, just 7.5% of traffic fatalities occurred in the rain. Snow, sleet, hail and freezing rain accounted for 1.2%, and fog, smog and smoke only 1.0%.
Perhaps people are extra cautious when the weather is bad but let their guards down when it's clear. This is a reminder that dangers on the road can crop up at any time.
Driving at Certain Times of Day
Statistics on fatal accidents also suggest that the evening is the most dangerous time for driving.
More traffic fatalities occur between 9 and 10 pm than any other hour of the day. As a whole, the hours from 6 to 10 pm are clearly more dangerous than hours of 6 to 10 am - almost twice as dangerous in terms of total traffic fatalities.
Tips for Driving on the Most Dangerous Roads in the U.S.
Highway driving often combines long hours behind the wheel with high speeds, which helps explain why the 10 most dangerous roads in the US are all interstate highways.
Whether you're taking off on a long trip or just popping down the road for a couple groceries, here are some tips that can help you drive more safely:
Plan ahead. This article has shown that season of the year, day of the week and time of day all make a difference in how dangerous it is to drive. Plan your trips for off-peak times when conditions are likely to be good and you'll cut down on some risk factors.
Know the route. Pay attention to how far it is between highway exits, and where you'll have opportunities to get gas, eat, rest or sleep for the night. Online resources make this easier than ever to keep track of.
Take your time. Don't get sucked into mimicking the behavior of drivers who are speeding.
Wear your seatbelt. Once you buckle up, you really won't notice it that much. But you'll miss having it on if you're in an accident.
Avoid distractions. Mobile devices are an obvious problem, but eating, fiddling with the car stereo and even too raucous a conversation can take your mind off the job.
Pace yourself. Take breaks when you're tired, and don't schedule yourself to do too much driving in one day.
Don't drink and drive. By all means stay under the legal limit, but also remember that even one drink can impair your performance.
Safe driving protects you, your family, other people and your car. It can also save you money by qualifying you for a good driver discount on your insurance.
Driving on Dangerous Roads FAQs
What makes a road dangerous?
Sharp twists and turns, rapid elevation changes, high speed limits, lack of guard rails or other safety features, and rough road surfaces can all make for a hairy drive. More often than not though, what makes a road dangerous is other drivers. Taking the road less traveled and picking off-peak times can make for a safer trip.
What should I do if I'm not comfortable with road conditions?
If you can, think of a place nearby where you can go to regroup, or possibly stay over, such as a hotel, a friend's or a relative's house. If conditions allow, pull off the main road so you can stop and think. If you have to pull over to the side of a road, make sure you move completely onto the shoulder and put your hazard lights on.
How can I avoid risky driving conditions?
Avoid heavy traffic times and dates. Consider a more leisurely route, and don't over-tire yourself. Also, always keep an eye on the weather report for the next few days so you can work your schedule around the best driving conditions.
Protecting Yourself if Accidents Do Happen
Despite all your best efforts, if you drive long enough there's a good chance you'll be in an accident. Having the right insurance can help prevent a minor road incident from turning into a major financial hardship.
The type of roads you drive on should be a factor in what type of insurance coverage you opt for, along with how much you drive, how expensive your car is and how much you need a vehicle for your livelihood.
If you drive often and on dangerous roads, it makes more sense to add collision and comprehensive coverage. It may also be cost effective to keep your deductibles low. If you have an old clunker, state minimum liability coverage should suffice but make sure your coverage limits are adequate if you cause an accident.
Shopping around and getting expert advice can help you optimize your insurance coverage at a reasonable price. Just enter your zip code below to answer some questions for the lowest insurance rates in your area.
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