Treacherous roads can often throw doubt on how far man has come since those transport wizards, the Romans, ran the show. Still, if you survive the surprises it has in store, a rocky road can be exhilarating. So, for an armchair adrenalin jolt, why not join David Wilson on a ride along the world's worst.
Prepare for extreme terrain: hairpin bends, ravines and distracting scenery, among other hazards liable to trigger a tailspin. Many brake-or-bust nightmare stretches belong to the high-development, low-taxation United States. Honourable mentions go to the gut-twisting road to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and the Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, knife-edge pass hardly able to hold two cars far less the buses that ply it.
In a stiffly competitive field, Bolivia's single-lane North Yungas, which boasts 600m drops, is so dire that people call it Death Road. Carved by Paraguayan prisoners, Death Road snakes 60km across the Andes from the Bolivian capital, La Paz, to the jungle. "At every turn, one catches glimpses of yawning chasms filled with cloud and crazy, slanted foliage," a blogger writes. The chasms' menace deepens when fog, rain and mud complicate matters. The constant landslide threat ratchets up the tension.
Dead Indian Pass is a 70km rogue Wyoming road, which skirts Yellowstone Park, and gets its name from a tribe slaughtered by the US Cavalry. Dead Indian Pass has the classic nightmare drive ingredients: plunging guardrail-free cliffs and more twists than Dances With Wolves
. In a bonus, despite its reputation for scenic beauty, Dead Indian feeder road Beartooth Highway is precarious, too switchback-ridden, windy and sheer.
Once listed in the Guinness Book of Records
as the world's most dangerous road, Swaziland's Malagwane Hill retains notoriety. Blame a lethally promiscuous mix of twitchy drivers, blind corners and tight bends. Other issues include the dearth of overtaking spots, the preponderance of grazing cattle and tricky physics. Cars whizzing down the steep maze of indeterminate length gain too much momentum. Climbing cars lose traction and slip.
4. La Rumorosa, Mexico
This 11km mountain-pass exercise in anarchy that's said to be a UFO magnet would test the reflexes of an F1 ace. Along with a bus and an oil tanker, cars that failed the test form a graveyard at the mountains' base. Beware las colas del diablo
. The "devil's tail" whispering gusts of wind, which give La Rumorosa its name, are liable to flick your vehicle into the abyss.
This 200km gut-churning boneshaker is great value. It twists like a Nepalese pit viper and has everything that the demon drive fan might crave: fog, potholes, switchbacks, plus the obligatory death-trap ravine, which affords vertigo views of buckled trucks and buses with shattered windscreens. Why fly to Pokhara from the kingdom's capital and miss all the action?
If you ever wondered how it feels to be buried alive, this 2400km precipice-fringed pass may supply more than a smattering of detail. Anyone who ventures along the highway, which runs from the Chinese town of Chengdu to Tibet's capital, Lhasa, may be greeted with an extreme dusting of snow which turns the car into an esky-cum-coffin. In February 2009, no less than four avalanches struck and swamped the highway. Bulldozers and a detachment of shovel-equipped Red Army troops had to grapple with the monster white-powder pile-up.
Another good all-rounder, this northern Indian stretch built by the army slices across some of the world's highest passes and offers the complete reckless road experience. Landslides? Check. Potholes? Check. Vertical ravines? Check. Other warped drawcards include tailbacks and low oxygen-triggered acute mountain sickness. The highway's 500km may well consume more than the standard two days if and when the rubber hits the road. The white-knuckle bus plunge magnet is only open between June and mid-September otherwise the weather closes in the road.
Defined by "tightly wound twisties", Tail of the Dragon straddles the Smoky Mountains and routinely claims lives. Like the countless yellow caution diamonds and crash site markers, the names of some hazards convey how dangerous a dance with the dragon can be. Picture the challenge posed by Brake or Bust Bend, Gravity Cavity, Rocket Corner, The Whip and Beginner's End. Still, the 17km trouble spot's rollercoaster vibe lures gravity-happy performance bike riders from around the world. The low-leaning daredevils with a death wish double, even triple, the speed limit as they negotiate more than 300 comfort zone-busting bends.
Named after Maui's last ruler, this widely panned 45km assault course delivers a dizzying mix of blind curves and bottlenecks. Car-rental firms ban clients from taking the highway, which clings to the cliff from which it's carved. When confronted by oncoming traffic, anyone determined to negotiate it must throw the car into reverse and keep inching back, hugging the cliff, until there is room to squeeze by and roll on to the next roadblock.
Got any more contenders for the world's worst road? Have your say using the comments form below: