Highland politicians have criticised the delay in dualling the A9 after new figures from Transport Scotland showed a staggering increase in the number of fatalities on roads in the north of the country.

According to the data from Transport Scotland, the number of people killed on roads in the Highland Council area has gone from 14 in 2021 to 32 in 2022.

It is the highest number of fatalities on roads in the local authority area since 2008.

Most of the deaths, 20, were on trunk roads, which includes the A9, Scotland’s longest road.

READ MORE: Scottish road fatalities at highest level since 2016

The figures were part of Transport Scotland’s annual road casualties report, which revealed that across Scotland, the number of people killed on the country’s roads had reached a six-year high in 2022, jumping by 32, from 141 to 173.

The new figures are particularly grim as the jump follows on from a long-term downward trend.

Car users accounted for the majority of the fatalities, with 101 being killed last year, almost double the 55 who died in 2021.

That increase is likely down to a spike in the number of road users following the pandemic.

But the numbers in the Highlands are significantly above pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, 21 died, a drop from 23 the year before. 

The Scottish Government committed to widening around 80 miles of single-carriageway in 11 sections along the A9 in 2011.

However, only 11 miles in two sections have been dualled in the last 12 years.

In February, the then transport minister Jenny Gilruth told parliament that the ambition of dualling the road between Perth and Inverness by 2025 had become “simply unachievable”.

Last month, the First Minister admitted it would not be completed before the next Holyrood election in May 2026.

The Government is due to update parliament on the overall timescale later this year.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: A9 dualling will not be finished before 2026 election 

Kate Forbes, the former finance secretary, and MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch told The Herald: “My thoughts are with every single family affected by these terrible tragedies.

“It is desperately sad to hear of any death on Highland roads, and we should all reflect on this apparent increase in fatalities.

“These figures don’t reveal the much bigger impact, as they don’t factor in the near-misses, injuries and grief for wider family and friends.

“The argument for dualling the A9 is partly to unlock the Highland economy, but is largely to improve road safety. The Government has renewed its commitment to dualling the A9, and I look forward to receiving further information on the timetable for completing that work.”

Her SNP colleague Fergus Ewing agreed. He said dualling the road was “an issue of life and death.”

The Inverness and Nairn MSP said: “Driver responsibility and error is, sadly, the major factor behind all road traffic incidents. However, the A9 is particularly ‘unforgiving’ of driver error, especially because of the rapid and frequent alternation between single and dual carriageways, and indeed two plus one sections too.

“This is confusing even for seasoned users such as myself but especially perhaps those from other countries unfamiliar with our roads and Highway Code and rules of the road.”

"The people of the north of Scotland want more tarmac, not more talk," he added. "Promises are just words on a page.  The broken promises have severed the trust of the public."    

The Herald:

Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “This is a huge number of families to have lost loved ones on Scotland’s roads.

“I don’t want to see anyone more people left without partners, children or grandparents because the Scottish Government continues to move too slowly to tackle dangerous trunk roads.

“The SNP came into government in 2007 pledging urgent action to improve trunk roads to the North and North East but next to nothing has happened. The fact that the A9 dualling will not be completed until beyond the next Scottish Parliament election in 2026 speaks to the snail’s pace with which successive ministers have acted.”

READ MORE: Alex Neil criticises Nicola Sturgeon over failure to dual A9

In total, across Scotland, there were 5,621 road casualties in 2022, up 10% on 2021. Of those 1,776 people were seriously injured.

Trunk roads accounted for 35% of fatal collisions, 18% of serious collisions, and 18% of all collisions.

Minister for Transport Fiona Hyslop said the Scottish Government did not accept that the fatalities were inevitable.

She said: “One death on our roads is simply one too many. My thoughts are with the families and friends who have tragically lost a loved one, and those whose lives are changed forever.

“We do not accept that road casualties are inevitable and are determined to do everything we can to ensure these numbers come down as we work towards our long term target of no one being seriously injured or killed on our roads by 2050.

"That is why the Scottish Government is investing more than £31 million pounds on road safety this financial year to support projects such as our Trunk Road Casualty Reduction Programme, the Road Safety Improvement Fund, our Safety Camera Programme and the expansion of 20 mph areas in communities across Scotland."

There were 912 pedestrian casualties in 2022, of these, 367 were seriously injured and 33 died.

The overall number of pedestrian casualties was 18% higher than in 2021.

In total, there were 480 cycle casualties in 2022, 32 less than the previous year. The number of seriously injured pedal cycle casualties in 2022 was 180.

There were 2 pedal cycle fatalities in 2022, eight less than 2021.

A total of 467 motorcyclists were injured in road collisions in 2022, of these, 280 were seriously injured and 25 died.