HOW dangerous are Scotland's roads?
It is a question that crops up whenever new road casualty figures emerge or another fatal crash points the spotlight at an accident blackspot.
The A9 is back on the radar today as a one-off BBC television special exposes "Life and Death" on Scotland's longest road.
Although often referred to as "Scotland's deadliest road" because it claims more lives per year than any other, it is not actually the most dangerous. That morbid moniker belongs to a handful of country roads, including the A819 Inveraray-Dalmally and A708 Moffat-Selkirk, which are responsible for far more deaths per mile than the 269-mile A9.
Both are blacklisted in the high-risk category because the danger of a fatal or serious collision is 27 times higher than on the safest roads. Meanwhile, the A9 is rated a yellow low-medium-risk road - the second lowest risk level.
So, context is everything; which brings us back to the question of how safe Scotland's roads really are. According to the latest round of Scottish transport figures published last week, pretty safe.
According to a table comparing rates of road fatalities across the 27 EU nations, Scotland comes fourth lowest. In 2011, the most recent year where information was available for each country, there were 185 people killed on Scotland's roads - equivalent to 35 for every million Scots.
Only the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK as a whole recorded lower death rates. In the Netherlands, there were 546 road deaths - 33 per million - while the UK boasts the lowest fatalities rate in Europe at 31 deaths for every million UK residents.
Cross the Channel into France and the risk of dying in a fatal road crash doubles. The stereotype of reckless continental motoring appears to ring true, as any hapless Brit who has attempted to drive in Paris, Rome or Barcelona would probably tell you.
But deadliest of all? Poland.
The ex-Soviet bloc nation's roads claimed the lives of 4189 people in 2011, equivalent to 109 for every million Poles. That makes it more than three times as dangerous as Scotland.
But, as with the A9, a lot depends on the difference between deadliest and most dangerous. Is it fair to say that Poland is the most dangerous European country to go for a drive in just because it has the highest rate of road deaths per head of population?
Poland has 1.7 million kilometres of road - roughly the same as the UK. Compare it that way and Poland has one death per 413km of road, making it around twice - not three times - as dangerous as the UK, which records one death per 894km of road.
In this context, it is Bulgaria that emerges as Europe's true blackspot with one death for every 113km of road.
Most surprising of all though? The Netherlands. This bastion of safe cycling and respectful road users records one fatality for every 238km of road. Apart from Bulgaria, only Belgium and Portugal are more dangerous.
And Scotland? One death per 1546km of road.
So, depending on how you look at it, Scotland's roads are either three times less deadly than Poland's, or six times safer than Holland's.
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