Cruising down the wide open roads of America is a fantasy shared by many.
But one person’s road trip is another’s hard work.
Commercial truck drivers crisscross the country regularly, carrying loads that can weigh tens of thousands of pounds and contain hazardous materials, to boot. And with such powerful machines and valuable cargo to look after, they’ve learned a thing or two about which highways make that work easier—and which can really ratchet up the stress.
In fact, a number of states are notoriously bad for truck drivers, sometimes responsible for far more fatalities than average. (Roadway deaths have been rising since 2015 in general, and workplace fatalities on the road, in particular, have also seen an uptick during that time.)
Below are the seven most deadly states to drive in for professional truckers—though regular motorists should also take heed, and take care on the road.
The state may fly under the radar for many, but the number of truck driver deaths there is soaring. Commercial driver deaths made up 8.8% of total North Dakota roadway fatalities in 2016, according to the latest data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Brutal winter weather in the High Plains may be partially to blame. Winter months can bring dangerous conditions such as black ice and whiteouts—the visual obstruction that happens when mists of snow are blown across the road.
Still, in many ways, North Dakota drivers may be playing a numbers game. Last year, the state was crowned the deadliest to work in, a title it reclaimed after also being designated America’s most deadly for workers in 2015 and 2014.
And with North Dakota’s oil industry booming, the state’s been adding even more truckers to its employment rolls, putting more lives on roads that have proven deadly dangerous.
The Cowboy State may be south of North Dakota, but its winters aren’t any warmer—or easier.
Copious amounts of snow, ice, and wind can cause conditions so bad, most truck drivers choose to wait it out rather than dare a drive. It’s not unusual to see a queue of big-rigs 10 miles long, parked along the side of a highway, according to some drivers. (The relatively small number of route options in the state are also a hindrance.)
And robust gusts of wind make things even more difficult.The stretch of I-80 near Elk Mountain is particularly notorious for blowing the huge vehicles off the highway, drivers said. All told, those accidents and more led to a truck driver fatality rate of 6.7%,compared to all roadway deaths in Wyoming.
Found in the heart of the Great Plains, the state’s vast, flat landscape can make for a uniquely beautiful and contemplative ride.
But those same conditions also lend themselves to danger.
When the wind gets riled up, there’s virtually nothing to stop it from whipping across the road. In the winter months, this could lead to lots of whiteouts. But even when weather conditions are sunny, Nebraska drivers are susceptible to the wiles of the wind.
The 5.9% fatality rate for truck drivers there stems particularly from the state’s gusty conditions, with winds capable of pushing the big-rigs off the road and even rolling them over.
While winters in the Sooner State are relatively warm, its springtime season can make drivers worry.
Twister season is also rainy season, with April showers often followed by… more showers in May. And too much of the wet stuff can be particularly troubling in the mostly-flat state, where flooding abounds.
But the tricky conditions are more than difficult to navigate for truck drivers—they can often be deadly. Oklahoma’s rate of truck driver fatalities was 4.6% in 2016, compared to all roadway deaths.
The Heart of Dixie may just be a victim of bad timing.
For professional truck drivers, Alabama is close enough to most major shipping cities that it can be reached in a single shift—but far enough away that it’s usually reached at the end of a long day. And despite their best efforts to stay awake, drowsy drivers can pose big problems. Some studies have found driving tired is nearly as bad as driving drunk.
Still, Alabama has a few inherent dangers as well, partially responsible for the state’s truck driver fatality rate of 3.6%. Speaking to Business Insider about roadway perils across the country, many drivers mentioned the large amount of logging trucks in Alabama as difficult to drive around.
And if the oversized tree trunks dangling off the edge of a truck weren’t dangerous enough, oftentimes the trucks are turning off of dirt roads to meet the highway, kicking up a temporarily blinding dust storm.
Many truck drivers marveled at the Lone Star State’s general awareness of commercial trucks on the road and its well-designed highways. But despite the best efforts of its human occupants, Texas is still at the mercy of Mother Nature.
The state is particularly vulnerable to flash flooding, which is the number one weather-related killer in the country, according to the National Weather Service. (When it comes to driving, flooding issues and more have led to a 3.6% truck driver fatality rate in Texas.)
April and May are the rainiest—and most prone to the dangerous phenomenon, though September and October are prime times for hurricanes to emerge from the Gulf of Mexico and dump lots of rain on the state.
The unique geography of Central Texas Hill Country also helps create a “flash flood alley” in the state that can be especially dangerous for drivers.
The Rocky Mountain State is among the nation’s most rugged, so it’s no surprise it secured a place among the country’s most dangerous.
The truck driver fatality rate there made up 3.5% of total deadly roadway accidents in 2016.
To be sure, Colorado boasts plenty of roadway dangers, from its severe mountain weather to its winding mountain passes. Black ice, whiteouts, high winds, and flash floods could also cause problems at nearly any time of year.
But the sad statistic may also represent the more dangerous side of the “high risk-high reward” concept of driving through the state.
From many eastern destinations, Colorado is something of a shortcut, offering a direct route to the West. Of course, to access it, one must drive through the Rocky Mountains.
The drive may be beautiful, but no one said it would be easy.