The Dalton Highway is widely considered to be the most dangerous road in North America, claiming lives almost every year. Built in 1974 to serve as the supply route between Alaska’s Interior and oil operations on the Arctic Ocean’s coast, Alaskans know it as “the Haul Road.”
The 414-mile-long Dalton is so dangerous that it gets the adrenaline pumping for many drivers -- including the hundreds of professionals who make a living traveling it on a regular basis.
“Even though you've done it a hundred and something times a year, it gets to be nerve-racking,” said Carlile Trucking driver Robert Pennick.
There’s good reason for that. The only highway that stretches north across Alaska’s Arctic tundra poses enough dangers to make it a constant challenge for these drivers, forcing them to expect the unexpected on a daily basis.
“Always something happens,” Pennick said. “Little or big, almost every time.”
The road is just wide enough for two trucks, temperatures plummet well below zero, poor visibility can blind drivers from seeing ditches in the road and avalanches sometimes block roads for hours at a time.
“A lot of the curves up here are not marked,” said Carlile trucker Jack Jessee. “There are no arrows, there are no slow-down signs -- you just got to know it's there.”
Despite the precautions drivers take, the Dalton’s challenges and those posed by the weather can still prove too much to overcome.
“We see accidents up here all the time, a lot of them,” said Pennick.
While professionals like Loren Hills appreciate the potential dangers the highway can present, they say it remains a huge risk to inexperienced drivers -- such as tourists.
“They don't know the road,” Hills said. “They don't know what they're getting themselves into.”
The hazard for unfamiliar drivers is so high that most rental car companies forbid drivers from taking their cars onto the Dalton at all. Visitors and vehicles hardy enough to drive it will find one -- and only one -- stop along the highway, a halfway point at which they can prepare for the remainder of the journey to Prudhoe Bay.
Editor’s note: “America’s Most Dangerous Highway” is airing on the Channel 2 Newshour during the week of Feb. 4-8, 2013.
Contact Blake Essig