California has a good record when it comes to road safety. It has the seventeenth-lowest accident rate on a per-mile basis. California also has the lowest rate of distracted driving accidents in the country.
This does not mean all California roads are safe. But car accidents tend to cluster around a few roads and highways.
Following are seven of the most dangerous highways and roads in California.
The Most Dangerous Highways in California
Not surprisingly, the most dangerous roads in California are interstate freeways. Originally designed to speed drivers across the farmlands and hills of California, these freeways now get bogged down with heavy traffic at all hours of the day.
The most dangerous highways in California include:
In California, I-15 runs from San Diego to the Nevada border. It provides access to Las Vegas and points north. A study commissioned in 2008 found that 1,069 people had died in traffic accidents on I-15 in California.
From Baker to Victorville, the freeway is wide and flat as it passes through the desert. Good visibility and dry, clear weather tempt drivers to drive well above the 70 miles per hour posted speed limit.
This stretch of highway only has a few towns and cities. But it can see bumper-to-bumper traffic on Fridays and Sundays as Californians travel to and from Las Vegas.
The deadliest stretch of I-15 is not in the desert but in the mountains. The Cajon Pass has a reputation for deadly crashes. Steep terrain, fog, and heavy traffic form a deadly combination along the stretch of I-15 leading into Hesperia.
The four-and-a-half miles of freeway from SR-138 to Hesperia had 19 fatalities over the three years from 2017 to 2019.
The 405 freeway is the busiest in the U.S. It runs for 72 miles from Irvine to San Fernando.
It was originally designed as a bypass route for I-5 so truckers could travel north-south without passing through Los Angeles. But as cities grew up along I-405, it became more congested than the interstate it bypassed.
I-405 has one particularly dangerous segment. The section that passes through Orange County near Seal Beach is only five miles long. But this section of highway sees about five fatalities – one fatality per mile – every year.
I-5 in California runs from the Oregon border to the Mexico border. Much of the freeway passes through rural areas and mountain passes. But it also passes through several highly populated areas with heavy traffic.
The most dangerous sections of I-5 run through Sacramento, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego.
In Sacramento, the five-mile segment crossing I-80 and the American River sees over three fatalities per year. In Los Angeles, I-5 runs for over 28 miles and has over ten fatal accidents annually.
In Orange County, I-5 provides access to Anaheim, Fullerton, and Buena Park. This section sees heavy traffic from locals and tourists. Over the five miles from Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim to Beach Boulevard in Buena Park, I-5 averages about three fatalities per year.
San Diego has two dangerous segments of I-5. The first segment runs through Chula Vista, and the second runs through National City. Each of these segments is about five miles long and sees about three fatalities every year.
The Most Dangerous Roads in California
California’s road system also includes several state and U.S. routes. Unlike freeways, these roads pass through towns and often have cross-traffic.
These roads provide scenic routes through California. But driving them can be treacherous with distracting views, winding paths, and narrow lanes. Some of the most dangerous roads in California include:
Redwood Highway (US-199)
The Redwood Highway runs from the Oregon border to Crescent City. It winds through dense forests as it passes through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the Smith River National Recreation Area, and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
A lack of artificial lights and unpredictable weather combine with winding roads to cause a few fatalities on this road every year.
Pacific Coast Highway (SR-1)
The Pacific Coast Highway is often listed among the country’s most scenic drives. But the narrow, winding roads also see a few road fatalities every year.
The most dangerous stretch runs through the Big Sur region, where the road narrows to one lane in each direction and hugs the cliffs. Because there is no passing lane, impatient drivers often make dangerous and illegal moves into oncoming traffic to pass slower vehicles.
Pearblossom Highway (SR-138)
SR-138, also known as the Pearblossom Highway, carries travelers on I-15 and I-5 to Palmdale and Lancaster. Police and locals refer to the highway as “Death Road.” This highway has tight curves and steep roads that result in about ten fatal accidents every year, making it one of the most dangerous roads in California.
The Sierra Highway includes parts of SR-14, US-395, and SR-89. It connects Los Angeles to South Lake Tahoe. This highway has the state’s highest number of crashes per mile along the section that runs through the Santa Clarita Valley. This section sees about three fatal crashes per mile every year.
Driving Safely on California’s Most Dangerous Roads and Highways
California’s excellent road safety record stems from low numbers of speeding deaths and distracted driving deaths. California has a high rate of seat belt and motorcycle helmet use.
Watching your speed, putting away your phone, and wearing your seat belt can improve your chances of surviving a crash on the most dangerous highways in California.
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