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NC Highway Ranks As a “Top 10 Most Dangerous Road”

11 Miles, 318 Curves

The Tail of the Dragon, or US 129, from an aerial view in the winter
This aerial view of the “Tail of the Dragon” offers a glimpse of its potential to cause catastrophe.

Not all high rankings are cause for celebration. North Carolina’s highway US 129 continues to find a home on recent lists of the top 10 most dangerous roads in the United States.

According to U-Pack.com, while most of the road is normal and easy to traverse, the 11 mile Tail of the Dragon is another ballgame entirely. Popular with more adventurous drivers, the windy stretch of highway is an all-too-frequent locale for motorcycle and (despite a big rig ban) truck accidents.

It’s not just U-Pack stepping on 129’s Tail. Conde Nast’s Traveler has it on its list of “extreme drives,” categorizing it as one of the scariest highways. Suspicious of the 318 curves legend, Traveler still acknowledges it’s “a darned twisty road.” But these aren’t your run-of-the-mill bends. “With monikers like Pearly Gates, Brake or Bust Bend, and Gravity Cavity, you can tell these twists are dead serious.”

MotorBiscuit calls it one of the most dangerous drives in the country. Two lanes, sharp curves, and blind corners will do that to you. Reader’s Digest covers the pros and cons of the road succinctly, calling it “one of the most exciting — and dangerous — drives in the country.”

Riding the Dragon

You finally made it to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina to ride the Tail of the Dragon. The Dragon is an amazing ride, so it’s easy to understand why it is so popular with bikers and other motorists. In addition to the grandiose scenery, there are no intersecting roads to interrupt the ride or drive. But the price of popularity is that the Dragon is more crowded and busy now than ever before. And more vehicles means more danger to bikers.

According to USA Today, the Tail of the Dragon gets about 1,200 vehicles visiting per day. With hundreds of blind curves and crests, even the most experienced drivers and riders can quickly find themselves in trouble. The speed limit for the North Carolina portion of the Tail of the Dragon was lowered to 30mph in early 2005. You can decide for yourself how effective speed limits signs are likely to be on a road for speed enthusiasts.

Deputies monitor and patrol the road frequently, trying to reduce the number of crashes. Prevention is ideal, as the remote location means emergency services take a long time to get there after a crash. Waiting for the ambulance to arrive and then waiting for transfer to a hospital or trauma center can take hours.

Unpredictable Road Conditions

Sun to snowfall and back can happen in the blink of an eye. Unpredictable and harsh weather from about November through March makes a dangerous road even more challenging. The remote road can mean encountering any or all of the following during your trip:

  • Unplowed/unsalted ice and snow
  • Wildlife in the road, like bears and boars
  • Road obstructions, like downed trees
  • Tractor-trailers in both lanes

Bustling Motorcycle Haven

Riders love taking on famed US 129, the Tail of the Dragon. Motorcycle Roads touts the ride as “legendary,” the most famous motorcycle road in the world, and the road most consistently rated as number one by motorcyclists.

Not surprisingly, the highway sees a lot of accidents. For the five year period ending in 2019, more than 450 crashes happened on the Tail of the Dragon. Thankfully, deaths on the Dragon don’t usually reach more than a handful per year due to the low speeds. But there are many possible consequences to a crash beyond a full-fledged fatality.

Two motorcyclists biking in the wrong lane on a narrow, winding forest road.

For riders sharing the narrow road with full-sized cars, the dangers can’t be ignored or always avoided. Even on regular roads, cops have an acronym for cars crashing into motorcycles negligently: LBFS — “looked but failed to see” accidents. If that’s the case on straight roads, imagine the danger across hundreds of cambered curves. And, remember, drivers are there for the sights, not to show their mastery of road awareness.

There is even a morbid marker to warn riders of the dangers of disrespecting the road and its many occupants. The “Tree of Shame” at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort has its own bit of fame and notoriety. The tree is covered in parts from motorcycles that have crashed and been “bitten by the Dragon” over the years.

Even at relatively low speeds, there are many injuries you can suffer from a collision on the Tail of the Dragon motorcycle ride. These include:

  • Arm injuries, such as breaks or biker’s arm
  • Road rash, such as abrasions, scrapes, and burns
  • Leg injuries, such as sprains, breaks, and amputations
  • Head injuries, such as concussions and brain damage

There is a lot more to know about motorcycle wrecks and what to do following an injury. Recruit medical and legal professionals to your side to help you try to recover as best as possible.

Trucks Trying to Traverse the Tail

This road used to be a popular shortcut for truckers when I-40 was blocked. After so many incidents involving semis, authorities completely restricted large commercial vehicles from using the road by 2015. Still, much like speed enthusiasts and their dubious dedication to observing speed limits, truckers’ dedication to saving time on their routes might cause them to disregard the letter of the law.

Curves can be a deadly factor in North Carolina truck accidents. Curves are especially dangerous for truck drivers because they can’t accelerate at a regular speed. Instead, they are generally accelerating and braking at every single curve. This makes it challenging for cars and motorcycles behind truckers on the road, because it requires constant attention and reactions. And more novice truckers may not be familiar with the kind of strategies it takes to maneuver a road like US 129.

In addition, trucks tend to drift into other lanes while negotiating sharp curves. For oncoming traffic, this is incredibly dangerous. And since the narrowness of US 129 doesn’t allow for much shoulder space to move out of the way of a drifting truck, this can lead to deadly accidents for other drivers.

Taming the Dragon

If you tackle the Tail, please be safe. Here are some planning tips from our resident experienced biker who has tamed the Dragon:

  • Never ride the Dragon alone; always have a buddy.
  • Make sure to allot enough time to finish the ride while it’s still light – especially if it’s your first time on the Dragon.
  • Don’t ride the Dragon when you’re tired. You need to be alert and focused for hours.
  • The Dragon is less crowded on weekdays, so avoid weekends if possible.
  • Avoid bad weather; a tight, curvy road with limited visibility is a lot less fun – and a lot more dangerous – when the weather is poor.

If You’ve Been “Bitten by the Dragon”

Safe driving is dependent on many factors — including those out of your control, like other drivers. When other drivers or riders take blind corners without sufficient skill, collisions resulting in serious injuries or even death will occur eventually. Trucking accidents can occur for a number of reasons, ranging from driver distraction to fatigue or driving while intoxicated (DWI). And being involved in an accident with a truck is especially dangerous because of their sheer size. Truck wrecks are not just big car wrecks.

A wreck can happen at any time no matter how carefully you navigate the road. If you need to file a truck accident claim or need help determining liability following a motorcycle accident, we’re available 24/7 to discuss your case. Contact us online or call us at 1-866-900-7078. There’s no reason to do it alone.