America's Deadliest Roads

In our "Where America Stands" series, CBS News is looking at a broad spectrum of issues facing the country in the new decade.

The Fourth of July weekend is coming and that means a lot of Americans will be hitting the road. AAA says nearly 35 million motorists will travel 50 miles or more during the weekend, up more than 17 percent from last year.

CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg reports on the most dangerous roads in the land.

(Scroll down for a list of the five most dangerous U.S. highways)

Taylor Elmore's parents describe their son as a conscientious, trustworthy teenager.

"The wonderful thing about Taylor, if Taylor told you he was going do something Taylor always did it," Greg Elmore said.

Taylor Elmore was driving eastbound on a rural section of Interstate 26 in South Carolina to visit a college.

"He said he could call as soon as he got to Charleston," Greg Elmore said.

But that call never came. Last summer, on a perfectly clear August morning, Taylor Elmore lost control of his Chrysler Sebring, ran off the road and into a tree. Greg Elmore, a retired Air Force master sergeant, demanded answers.

"When I was in Iraq, I was in a bomb blast that killed 47, and I thought that would be the worst thing that would ever happen to me in my life," said Greg Elmore. "But I came home to where I was born and raised, and the worst thing happened here."

In fact, Elmore would discover there were five more fatalities last year alone in the same 20-mile stretch of road just west of Charleston.

On roads like I-26, an average of 100 Americans are killed every day, and there's little margin for error. You take your eye off the road for just one second, it could cost you your life.

So what makes a bad road? Experts say it starts with blind curves, bad grading, a lack of center or side barriers and, in the case of I-26, it's a straight, tree-lined shot with steep slopes along the shoulder.

"We've got some work to do on our roads," John Horsley, the executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. "Especially rural two-lane roads, that's where 60 percent of fatalities take place."

Two of the deadliest two-lane roads that fail CBS News' report card are:
• U.S. Highway 2 in Montana, which contributes to that state having the highest highway fatality rate in the nation, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
• U.S. 129 in North Carolina, which AAA Carolinas called "the best chance of being killed" in 2008

But U.S. interstates are deadly as well.

Interstate 95 in Florida has one of the worst rates of deaths per mile in the country, according to the state Department of Transportation.

On Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, more than a thousand lives have been lost in 15 years, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Scripps Howard.

And on I-26 in South Carolina, a total of 325 people died in 286 wrecks during the last decade, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

An examination of I-26 by The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, S.C.

"If there has been a series of accidents in a stretch of road that demonstrate that improvement is needed, unless and until you can make those improvements, people are at risk," Horsley said.

The Problem

Making the problem even worse, Horsley said, is a lack of adequate safety legislation.

"There are 20 states that don't have primary seatbelt laws," said Horsley. "There are 24 states that don't have anything on the books to discourage either texting while driving or talking on your cell phone."

The Solution

"A lot of states are implementing cable barriers in the medians, rumble strips and many other strategies to improve safety," Victor Mendez, the government official who oversees the Federal Highway Administration.

Mendez said the stimulus package Congress passed last year is part of the solution.

"Right now, this summer, we will be improving 30,000 miles of highway throughout the nation," said Mendez. "That's about 10 cross-country trips."

(CBS)


That is of little comfort to Greg Elmore, who's determined to hold his state accountable, a father and veteran still fighting a war, this one, back at home.

(At left, Taylor Elmore)

"If we could go back a year from now and see that accidents have dropped along this stretch of road, then we would know that we've made a difference," said Elmore, "and Taylor's continuing to make a difference in people's lives as well."

Top 5 Most Dangerous U.S. Highways

The Daily Beast analyzed data the National Highway Safety Administration collected between 2004 and 2008 and published a list of the 100 deadliest interstates in the United States based on the number of fatal accidents that happened in individual states. Here are the top five from that list:

#1: Interstate 95 in Florida
In-state miles: 382.15
Fatal accidents: 662
Fatal accidents per mile: 1.73
Total fatalities: 765

#2: Interstate 76 in New Jersey
In-state miles: 3.04
Fatal accidents: 5
Fatal accidents per mile: 1.64
Total fatalities: 6

#3: Interstate 4 in Florida
In-state miles: 132.39
Fatal accidents: 209
Fatal accidents per mile: 1.58
Total fatalities: 234

#4: Interstate 15 in California
In-state miles: 287.26
Fatal accidents: 437
Fatal accidents per mile: 1.52
Total fatalities: 506

#5: Interstate 10 in California
In-state miles: 242.54
Fatal accidents: 341
Fatal accidents per mile: 1.41
Total fatalities: 387
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