THE A9 has sadly been back in the headlines recently, apparently living up to its name as "Scotland's deadliest road".
Two separate motorbike crashes on the same day last week saw five people admitted to hospital - two seriously injured - while a horrific three-car smash in July killed a mother and her seven-year-old daughter.
Speeding, single carriageways, poor road markings and dangerous overtakes by frustrated motorists stuck behind lorries travelling at the legal maximum of 40mph have all been blamed for the road's deadly reputation, and the Scottish Government is now poised to introduce average speed cameras along the Perth-Inverness stretch next summer, a move expected to cut the number of crashes by 19%.
Work to dual its entire 269-mile length, from Dunblane to Thurso, is also scheduled to begin in 2015, though it won't be completed until 2025.
But just how dangerous is the A9?
Between 2006-2010, it claimed more lives than any other road in Scotland: a death toll of 67. Though still comparatively high, this has fallen in recent years with the latest four-year tally - from 2008-2012 - showing 58 fatalities, an average of slightly more than 14 a year.
Yet numbers alone never tell the full story.
The A9 might have the highest death toll, but "deadliest" should not necessarily be conflated with "most dangerous".
An independent risk rating carried out by the European Road Assessment Programme in 2012 branded the A9 a yellow "low-to-medium" risk road, the second safest in a five-level scale. The danger was calculated by comparing the frequency of road crashes resulting in death and serious injury on every stretch of road against the volume of traffic each road is carrying. Only three roads in Scotland were blacklisted as high-risk roads: routes where the risk of a fatal or serious collision is 27 times higher than on the safest roads. These were the A819 Inveraray-Dalmally, A708 Moffat-Selkirk, and A822 Greenloaning-Dunkeld.
In Scotland as a whole there were 170 road fatalities in 2012, roughly three per 100,000 population. That compares to 16 per 100,000 in both China and India, 20 in Mexico or 24 in Russia.
Even the United States has three times the rate of road deaths annually compared with the UK, with a 150-mile stretch of desert highway in Arizona alone counting for an average 85 deaths per year.
Then there's the "unbelievably scary" Skipper's Road in New Zealand, a wafer thin 17-mile route which twists and turns along a path cut into a sheer cliff-face during the 19th century gold rush. It was closed for a month in 2012 after a landslip wiped out a 17ft section known as the Devil's Elbow.
Worse still is Bolivia's North Yungas Road, better known as the Camino de la Muerte (Death Road). A 38-mile single-track road from La Paz to Coroico, it kills an estimated 200 to 300 motorists a year, mostly from vehicles plunging off the barrier-free cliffs into the rainforest below.
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