While the majority of professional drivers get through their careers without being involved in any major accidents, commercial truckers account for 2.4% of all U.S. traffic fatalities every year. This is according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In some states, weather plays a major role in these incidents.
Earlier this month, FreightWaves reported on some of the worst weather states for truckers. Based on NHTSA data and driver experiences, these are some additions to the list.
Drivers can run into problems almost anywhere in Big Sky Country, and one of the most dangerous roads in the country snakes through the state.
Montana’s 760-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2 (US-2) — from the Washington state line to just east of Bainville — is prone to high winds, blizzards and black ice. It runs through extremely rural areas that are far apart from each other. The emergency response time of ambulances averages 80 minutes. Because of the limited population, there is not much traffic and so people tend to drive too fast.
Even on sunny days, gusts can reach 70 mph or higher in Montana’s plains, making it very risky for a trucker to pull an empty trailer, known as deadheading.
If you’ve seen the movie “Twister,” you probably know Oklahoma is famous for its tornadoes.
(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
Of all the states in Tornado Alley, Oklahoma has the third-highest number of average annual tornadoes. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Oklahoma averaged 62 tornadoes a year from 1991 to 2010, behind Texas (155) and Kansas (96).
Frequent severe storms can stop drivers in their tracks due to sudden torrential rainfall and large hail. Extreme weather has a lot to do with Oklahoma’s 4.6% truck driver fatality rate.
“Southwest cities, like Oklahoma City, are dangerous in the spring weather with the thunderstorms and tornado activity,” Rene Meneses, a truck driver since 1987, told Business Insider in September 2019.
The truck driver fatality rate in Alabama is 3.6%, in large part due to weather. Part of Dixie Alley, an extension of Tornado Alley, Alabama sees its share of severe storms, averaging 44 tornadoes a year. This is second highest among Southeast states, behind Florida (66).
Alabama has averaged two landfalling tropical cyclones a year since 1851. These systems can cause flooding and wind damage that lead to widespread road closures.
Alabama’s location can also be an issue for truckers, especially mid- to long-haul drivers.
“I’m wondering if being a central state has anything to do with that, because drivers bringing freight on longer trips would be tired in the middle of the trip,” trucker Terry Wilson said. “Alabama would fall under that, because you are allowed 11 hours of driving, and Alabama would be a state that you could get to towards the end of that 11 hours from most of the major shipping cities and states.”
Because of its high latitudes and altitudes, parts of Alaska become bitterly cold during the winter, and many roads can remain iced over for months. But these routes are crucial. Large freight is flown to transportation hubs, then trucked on these dangerous roads to remote areas where planes have no place to land.
Alaska’s Dalton Highway. (Photo: alaska.org)
One such road is James W. Dalton Highway — known as the Dalton Highway or Alaska Route 11 — one of the most dangerous roads in the country. It winds through mountainous terrain of the Brooks Range, where America’s lowest temperature of 80 degrees below zero was recorded in 1971. Also, it has only one fuel stop along its 414 miles and little access to emergency services.
The Dalton Highway was opened to tourists in 1994. Usually twice a day, helicopters patrol the area looking for breakdowns and accidents.