THE number of deaths and serious accidents on the roads that make up the North Coast 500 has risen by almost half since the tourist route was launched.
A Sunday Post probe found a rise in the number of incidents on the roads in 2016 – the first full year since the route was launched in March 2015 – compared to 2014.
Statistics from Police Scotland showed that on the nine main roads which make up the scenic 516-mile route – the A9 north of Inverness, the A835, the A832, the A890, the A896, the A894, the A838, the A836 east of Tongue and the A99 – there were nine deaths and 23 serious accidents in 2016.
In 2014, there were six deaths and 16 serious accidents, making an increase of 45%.
Dubbed Scotland’s answer to Route 66, the NC500 was created by the North Highland Initiative to boost tourism and generate economic opportunities in the north Highlands.
It has been a major success and was named among the top five coastal trips in the world by Now magazine within two months of it opening.
But the increased visitor numbers have put a strain on local infrastructure and the behaviour of some motorists has also angered residents living along the route who have reported speeding and dangerous driving to the police.
Alison MacLeod, the local development officer for Applecross Community Company in Wester Ross, said inexperienced drivers tackling the route were a serious concern.
“We are concerned there is going to be a serious accident,” she said.
“We have seen a lot of incidents of cars being damaged, ending up stuck on the road or bursting a tyre because the road is so badly maintained and, as traffic meets on the single-track road, people are pushed over to the side of the road where there might be a sharp drop.”
A report commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise on the route in 2016 showed there had been a 10% increase in the volume of traffic on the roads since the route opened and a 26% rise in the number of visitors.
It attracted an additional 29,000 visitors and generated an extra £9 million for the local economy.
Among recent fatalities on the route was the death of 72-year-old Elizabeth Williams in June 2015.
She died when a car driven by French tourist France Lautier, 64, veered across the A9 in Caithness, causing a five-car crash.
Lautier, who said she had no idea why her car drifted on the road that day, admitted careless driving and was handed a one-year driving ban and a £4500 fine.
Police launched a speeding crackdown on the North Coast 500 roads after reports that some locals had dubbed it the “Indy 500” after the famous American car race.
A spokesman for the North Coast 500 said: “Without knowing the circumstances of every accident, it is impossible to make any link.
“Although there appears to have been a slight overall rise in reported incidents, on some roads the numbers are actually down.
“We are in constant dialogue with the police to make sure the route is safe.”