One Of The Deadliest Rural Roads Is In This Western State

Utah's Highway 6 is known as one of the deadliest roads in all of the U.S.The 60-mile route travels between the communities of Spanish Fork and Price, and it's often used by people traveling from central Utah to recreation spots further south, like Utah's Mighty Five national parks around Moab. What makes the remote rural corridor so perilous is not traffic jams or an abundance of intersections; it's a combination of road and weather factors that put drivers at risk for high-speed collisions. 

Weaving through mountains and high desert underneath an endless sky, Highway 6 is one of those roads that makes you want to drive a little faster (it's the Wild West, right?). Add to that the high number of big trucks on the road, its curviness and narrowness, a dearth of dividers and passing lanes, and slippery road conditions in winter, and what you end up with is a recipe for disaster. Drivers who attempt to pass slow-moving vehicles or fall asleep at the wheel may cross over into oncoming traffic at an inopportune moment, resulting in a head-on collision. Making matters worse, emergency assistance may be a long way off due to the road's remoteness and thus, a long way off from major trauma centers. 

How road improvements are making a difference

At one time, fatal accidents on Highway 6 were as common as pig tracks. Most locals could even name someone (or even a few someones) who had met their demise on its cursed pavement. "Parents, when they send their kids away for college, that's one of the big concerns. 'Do I send them north so they travel Highway 6? Or, do we go south where it's not so dangerous?'" said Brad King, a resident of the area and former member of the Utah Legislature, in an interview with NPR. The overload of grim statistics finally prompted the Utah Department of Transportation to take action. 

After conducting safety studies, it invested around $148 million in road improvements over the past 18 years, adding rumble strips, barriers, passing lanes, and electronic signs reminding drivers to slow down around curves. While these changes have reduced accident rates along the highway by around 60%, horrific crashes still occur, with at least 13 traffic fatalities on Highway 6 in 2023 alone. Moreover, recent activity on the popular Eastern Utah Road and Weather Conditions Facebook page (which has over 15,000 members) suggests that safety remains a concern, with one recent post warning "Be aware on Hwy 6 today. It feels like a NASCAR race this morning."

How to travel safely on Highway 6

The Utah Highway Safety Office maintains that most accidents along Highway 6 result from five types of dangerous driving errors: drifting into other lanes, over-correcting, exceeding the speed limit, driving too quickly in inclement weather conditions, and not yielding to other vehicles. "Poor driving behavior is a choice," said Jason Mettmann, the communications manager for the safety office, per Utah news outlet KUER. "These drivers are making the choice to go too fast for weather conditions or exceed the posted speed limit." If you're planning to travel along this roadway, please don't be one of those drivers. 

Along Highway 6 and other rural roads in Utah, abide by the posted speed limits, and especially check your speed around curves, in fog, and when the road is slick from rain, snow, or ice. It's definitely a good idea to check the weather forecast before starting your trip, but also recognize that weather can change unpredictably and rapidly when you're in the mountains. Be particularly careful when driving on the road in winter, especially on long, flat stretches where black ice may be present. The aforementioned Facebook group is quite active and can also serve as an excellent resource, with posts on topics ranging from weather, accidents, road closures, and even the latest new potholes to avoid. Users frequently share photos of current road conditions in the group to help people make smart travel decisions.